Dr. Takashi Wada is moving to a job he says is an opportunity to better utilize his medical degree, and is leaving his post of public health director of Santa Barbara County in January.
Wada will become deputy chief medical officer for CenCal Health, the organization that administers Medi-Cal for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
It provides health coverage for about 25 percent of residents in Santa Barbara County and 20 percent of SLO County residents.
Wada has led the Public Health Department since 2010, and additionally served as interim head of the Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health Services Department (now called Behavioral Wellness) from November 2012 to December 2014.
CenCal Health is not a direct clinical provider, but it oversees a network of providers, and has a role in ensuring clinical quality for its membership, Wada said.
It follows the so-called triple aim of health care: population health, cost and patient experience, he added.
His role will be to oversee clinical quality, efficiency of operations and care management programs, he said.
“There is a big population-health aspect to it, looking at data and case management to figure out how to keep members healthier,” he said.
CenCal Health also announced the hire of Dr. Darryl Leong of Los Angeles as the new chief medical officer.
Leong has been chief medical information officer and medical director for Care First Health Plan in Monterey Park for almost 10 years, according to CenCal Health.
Leong has a vast amount of experience as a health plan director, and Wada has experience in public health, is well-known in the community and knows the needs of the area, CenCal health CEO Bob Freeman said. “We thought they would make just a great tandem.”
CenCal Health is developing a dual-eligible MediCare and MediCal program for low-income seniors over 65, Freeman said.
“Right now in the community there are not many options for that population, so we see that as an extension of our mission, to provide a delivery system for those folks.”
The state is also passing down more responsibility for mental health treatment, which is where Wada’s experience with the Behavioral Wellness Department will be valuable, Freeman said.
The Medi-Cal expansion in Santa Barbara County reduced the number of uninsured people, and Wada said it’s too early to speculate what federal changes may come with President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration, including the possibility of cutting back on the Medicaid program.
“I think our number of members assigned to Public Health Department clinics increased by 67 percent, so certainly we’d have to find ways to ensure those individuals still had access to high-quality health care,” Wada said.
His tenure at Public Health included the department implementing the Affordable Care Act and electronic health records; responding to infectious disease threats and outbreaks including Ebola, the Zika virus and Hepatitis C; and initiating the community health improvement plan, which is expected to finish next year.
Wada said it is bittersweet to leave the Public Health Department, but he is looking forward to the new position with CenCal Health.
“I would like to thank the Board of Supervisors and the CEO’s office for their leadership and support over the years. It has been an honor and privilege serving as director, and the quality of staff and the senior leaders within the department made my job so much easier.
“Although there are future budget challenges and unknowns about what will happen with health care reform, the Public Health Department has a great reputation, excellent systems, passionate staff, and is on solid ground. I am sure the county will be able to attract excellent candidates as the recruitment process is initiated to fill my position.”
There is no official plan for an interim replacement and the County Executive Office hasn't yet announced a plan for replacing Wada, Public Health spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild said.
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