Every year, Modern Healthcare selects 25 rising stars in the healthcare industry as part of its Emerging Leaders program, with each honoree profiled in an issue of the magazine and online. We spoke to Mairéad McInerney, corporate director of population health-wellness coordination and member experience at AmeriHealth Caritas, about how her experience in social work prepared her for her current role.
Your early career roles were in social work. What attracted you to that field?
My initial curiosity about the field was sparked by my high school and college experiences. I was a volunteer camp counselor for children and youth living with HIV diagnoses, and later I worked as a therapeutic support staff member in both classroom and residential settings. That gave me an opportunity to observe and interact with social workers in direct care, advocacy, administration and leadership roles. I wanted a career that would be purposeful and impactful. I recognized that social work would assist me in achieving these two goals, as well as providing me the flexibility to work with different populations and settings.
How has social work experience supported your work leading community care and population health?
My social work education and experiences in the field helped me recognize the importance of the individual and how they interact with the systems around them, including their family, neighborhood, community and much more. Social work showed me the importance of being a lifelong learner. My education in psychology and passion for social justice have informed the person-centered approach I take to my work, as well as my dedication to fostering a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, which is a major focus for all of us at AmeriHealth Caritas.
What are the objectives of the initiatives you’re overseeing?
Within the population health division, I oversee key national initiatives on health risk and social determinants of health assessments. I also provide wellness education and coordination on a variety of important topics, including nutrition and exercise; smoking cessation; behavioral health and Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it critical for members to be sure they are scheduling their wellness appointments and screenings so any health issues are revealed as early as possible.
What was the most challenging pivot you had to make during the pandemic?
A shared challenge among many leaders and organizations was the immediate shift to a remote workforce. There was no time for a dress rehearsal.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I strive to be inclusive, transparent and intentional. I bring my colleagues into conversations, meetings and projects to observe, participate and lead. I’m active in providing ongoing coaching and succession planning as well. This proved to be invaluable because, in November 2022, I received a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis. I was immediately out of the office for a month, but my team was prepared. They had the access and information they needed to immediately step into interim roles with confidence and ease.