Nurses at the Frontline: Stories on the Impact of COVID-19 on Medicaid Enrollees

Lydia Tonkonow

This year, in celebration of the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the Institute for Medicaid Innovation (IMI) partnered with Medicaid health plans across the country to create a compendium that highlights the critical work done by these professionals in the Medicaid space. As the project launched in early 2020, the impact of nurses and midwives took on a different meaning as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the globe. Suddenly, nurses and midwives faced a public health crisis at a scale unlike any other in modern history. Although the first phase of the project focused on the role of nurses and midwives in Medicaid, generally, as part of the second phase the focus shifted to their role in responding to the pandemic.

As the Celebration of Nurses and Midwives in Medicaid Managed Care compendium shows, the pandemic forced Medicaid health plans across the country to change how they operated and, as a result, nurses saw the way they interacted with individuals, families, and communities shift drastically. Kendra Knox, a clinical coordinator and care manager at Upper Peninsula Health Plan, noted that, “launching virtual case management has been my most memorable experience during COVID-19. The members I work with are minimally verbal but when I visit, they are eager to engage via facial expression, nodding, hand gestures, and some sounds.”

Other nurses like Jan Kusserow, a field based care manager at Gateway Health, have seen how small interactions have a big impact on socially isolated members.  She explained, “things we take for granted, [members] are not able to access or address. It comes down to getting basic resources for them – wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, etc. We are doing whatever we can to help, but this pandemic has amplified the disparities that exist.”

COVID-19 has underscored existing inequities, as well as created new barriers to care. L.A. Care Health Plan’s Lyrva Sanchez, RN, BSN, a palliative care nurse specialist identified several emerging issues in her work. “As a result of increased unemployment due to COVID-19, the Medicaid population may also experience more housing and food insecurity. COVID-19 also shined a light on issues related to care delivery, particularly for the most vulnerable populations,” she shared.

IMI’s compendium spotlights 25 nurses from eight different Medicaid health plans who have dedicated their career to caring for the Medicaid population, a group at greatest risk of being impacted socially, physically, and mentally by the pandemic. We honor them by highlighting their stories and thanking them for their service.