Profiles in Change: Emerging Black Leaders in Healthcare—Karis Stoudamire Phillips

Profiles in Change: Emerging Black Leaders in Healthcare series focuses on up and coming industry leaders that are driving meaningful change, particularly in overcoming the longstanding inequities in care in our organizations and in our communities. The interviews are intended to provide insight into these leaders’ perspectives and initiatives as they share their innovative best practices for driving improvements. 

Profiles in Change: Emerging Black Leaders in Healthcare—Karis Stoudamire Phillips - Health Catalyst
Karis Stoudamire Phillips

Karis Stoudamire Phillips, Vice President, DEI and Community Initiatives at Moda Health, is driving meaningful change, particularly in overcoming the longstanding inequities in care in healthcare organizations and our communities. A passion for health equity runs in the family: Karis is the oldest daughter of Trudy Sullivan, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Communications Officer at Health Catalyst, and Charles Stoudamire, who has his master’s degree in Hospital and Healthcare Administration from University of Minnesota, and spent the better part of his career in healthcare systems and state and county public health organizations, driving change through unique public/private partnerships focused on overcoming disparity.

Please tell us a little about you and your background (hometown, education, past work experiences).

I was born and raised in North and Northeast Portland and still reside in North Portland today. I am a proud alumnus of St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic college preparatory high school in Portland. From St. Mary’s Academy, I went onto Saint Mary’s College of California in a cute little town called Moraga in the hills of the Bay Area. I was a pre-med major at SMC and graduated with a BS in Psychology Child Development as I was on track to become a pediatrician.

I changed paths after graduation as I entered the philanthropic world (and absolutely loved it!), helping to establish my family’s foundation – Damon Stoudamire, Inc. I decided to go onto graduate school at Washington State University. There I earned my Master’s in Public Affairs.

My adult work experience has all been in the philanthropic field. I started with facilitating my family’s foundation and then went on to accept a very different opportunity. I assumed the role of Corporate Relations Officer at Legacy Health System as a fundraiser working with the health system’s corporate partners securing support across all system locations.

I desired to remain in philanthropy but in yet another varied role. I sought an opportunity to establish a corporate giving program at Moda Health (then ODS). I have been at Moda for nine years and have personally developed our corporate giving, employee giving, and employee volunteer programs. I have also been a part, from the very beginning of Moda’s statewide partnership with the Portland Trail Blazers, overseeing all things community related with that initiative.

In the last few years, my role has expanded to include the direction of Moda’s DEI initiatives. This includes both internal efforts with employees and external efforts with our groups and partners.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing healthcare payers in 2021?

I cannot narrow it down to just one challenge but must state two. First, the ever-rising costs of providing healthcare, which ultimately causes insurance costs to soar. And second, harnessing plus adherence to advanced technology to enhance the patient experience.

What excites you most about the new administration?

It should excite and make every woman in this country proud to see Senator Kamala Harris on the biggest stage in our country, standing firmly as our vice president of the United States of America. Regardless of political affiliation, no one can deny that this woman, this Black woman, has broken through the glass ceiling! As I have watched her and really every time that I see her, I cannot help but to think about all of the little girls out there, especially little black and brown girls, who see her and know that yes, they too can be the next Kamala Harris!

I am also excited about the opportunity for change and the reversal of so many of the previous administration’s decisions that negatively impacted the day-to-day lives of so many Americans. I know that government administrations do not and cannot effect absolute change; however, having an administration that has vowed to cross the aisle and be collaborative energizes and excites me. This administration’s focus on health and sciences is also encouraging. The acknowledgment and promotion of both medical sciences and earth sciences is a positive change which has caused me to breathe a huge sigh of relief and given me a sense of hope.

You have been a part of the philanthropic fabric of Portland for the better part of your life. Can you talk about the gaps in healthcare you see being closed thanks to progressive organizations?

Through philanthropy the gaps in healthcare in Portland that are being filled are tremendous. I am so proud that Moda has stepped up and stepped in to fill some of the gaps via partnerships directly with nonprofit organizations and also via collaborations with partner corporations.

Some of the most important areas are outreach and access in underserved communities. Moda offers dental, medical, and pharmacy insurance in Oregon and Alaska. And one of our goals through our philanthropy is to fill gaps in underserved communities in each of these areas of service. Here are just a few of the many examples of our work in these areas. In the area of pharmacy, we created and offer a prescription discount program to anyone who is either not insured or who is underinsured. In the medical field, we financially support disease fighting organizations and also community-based health clinics who serve specific communities such as the African American community and the Latino community. Finally, in the dental field, Moda supports a program called The Tooth Taxi. The “Taxi” is an RV staffed with dental trained personnel, that travels around the state of Oregon providing free dental services to students at schools in low-income communities.

Are there Moda Health community partnerships focused on disparities in care? If yes, please provide an example of the outcomes.

Yes, Moda is a member-owner of a coordinated care organization, the EOCCO (Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization). The purpose is to ensure Oregon Health Plan (OHP) members living in Eastern Oregon have access to affordable, high-quality care to help them to better health and wellness. The Oregon Health Plan (OHP) pays for low-income Oregonians to have healthcare. It is funded by the state of Oregon and the federal government.

EOCCO works with providers to:

  • Setting up your care
  • Helping you understand your care plan after an appointment
  • Reminding you about appointments
  • Asking how we can help you get healthier
  • Setting up care when you see more than one provider
  • Suggesting you see your provider for routine care

EOCCO works with local hospitals, providers, public health, county governments, and other community partners to achieve the Triple Aim for EOCCO members. The Triple Aim goal in healthcare includes (1) Improving the patient experience of care, (2) Improving the health of populations, and (3) Reducing the per capita cost of healthcare. The EOCCO has been successful in all areas in achieving the triple aim goals.

What accomplishments at Moda Health are you most proud of and why?

I am particularly proud that I was integral in leading our Diversity Council in garnering support, presenting the proposal, and ultimately having the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday observed as a non-working holiday for all Moda Health employees. This was a huge accomplishment because most health care institutions are open on this holiday because of the need to be available to members, patients and etc.

It was at this moment that Moda’s DEI journey truly took off showing all both internally and externally that we were serious about our mission and committed to impactful change.

Do you have a mentor in healthcare or someone who inspires you? If yes, who and why?

My healthcare mentor is Dr. Nathalie Johnson. She is the Medical Director of Legacy Cancer Institute, Legacy Breast Health Centers, and a board-certified surgical oncologist with Legacy Medical Group. I met Nathalie during my sophomore year in high school. She is why I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. It is imperative to see someone who looks like you in a role that you strive to achieve. Dr. Johnson was and is that silhouette for me. Even though I did not go on to become a doctor, I am still inspired by Dr. Johnson’s heart to serve and to give. So though I may not be saving lives in the operating room, the philanthropic work that I am blessed to do, does save lives. And I have been blessed to collaborate with her in providing vital life-saving information and programming to communities in need.

Inequity in healthcare has been a long-standing challenge, with the affects glaringly apparent because of the disproportionate COVID19 infection and morbidity rates for all communities of color. Can you tell us about any initiatives you are leading inside your organization to overcome inequity?

A very important initiative within Moda right now is expanding our provider diversity offerings. Specifically we are committed to providing our members the opportunity to search for providers who look like them and who may better relate to them and serving their healthcare needs. This work is not yet complete. I am thrilled to be playing an intricate role in the effort.

What is your favorite book?

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

As you balance your career, being a hands-on Mom with two young sons, and your community volunteerism, do you have any tips for other working Moms?

Faith, Family, Career. This order is non-negotiable.

  • Be present with your family, especially with your kids. When it comes to kids, the days may be long, but the years are short.
  • Learn how to say no and know that saying no is okay.
  • Time management is key.
  • Giving back is important and it offers fulfillment.
  • For me, I only plan out the next three days ahead hour by hour. If I try to plan out the entire day beyond three days, it can be overwhelming. Create a system that works for YOU.
  • Carve out ME time daily, giving yourself something to look forward to that brings you joy. Even if that is just a thirty-minute exercise class, watching a silly reality show or enjoying a glass of wine after a long day. Do something for YOU each day!
  • Though you may want to, you cannot control everything.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an up-and-coming leader in healthcare, what would it be?

Be a pioneer. And always pave the way for someone coming behind you. Being the first is outstanding, but not if you are satisfied with just that and not concerned about who will be next and helping them to get there.

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