Voice of the WHI: Ruth Kraut, Program Administrator, Washtenaw County Health Plan

Ruth Kraut, Program Administrator for the Washtenaw County Health Plan, spoke with WHI communications chair Liz Conlin on April 17, 2019.

What inspired your passion for public health?
 I started my career in environmental education at the Ann Arbor Ecology Center. I decided to make a career change and received master’s degrees in public health and education. I had a colleague who worked in public health and as I learned more about the field, I realized that this was a field where I could make a difference.

How long have you worked at the Washtenaw County Health Plan?
I started in 2005 as a contract employee at the Washtenaw County Health Department working on programs related to infant mortality. In 2006, I joined the Washtenaw County Health Plan. More recently, I also manage a group of state grants for the county health department called “Getting to The Heart of the Matter.” These projects include tobacco, oral health, and chronic disease prevention.

Which health challenges—disparities, gaps, policies—keep you up at night?
Kraut. I am very concerned about Healthy Michigan individuals who will lose health coverage with the new work requirements. Despite communications to them, I have grave concerns that they will lose their coverage anyway because none of the support agencies are getting extra help or staff to work with these people to make sure they do what they need to do to stay in the plan.

I also have a lot of concerns about our immigrant population and how they are treated. We have people who come to Washtenaw County from all over the world because they are attracted to our universities. We want them to feel welcome here. The county, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti are doing as good a job as possible, but there are limits to what we can do. The treatment of immigrants through out the U.S. is a patchwork and that is troubling.

What are some of your proudest moments?
When the ACA Exchanges and Healthy Michigan programs became available, the Washtenaw County Health Plan reviewed all 8,000 of our members and helped get each one to the right spot. We now have 1,800 Health Plan members and 18,000 Healthy Michigan members in the county as a result of our work on this.

Establishing the Washtenaw County Dental Clinic and getting it up and running was a great collaborative effort. The clinic now serves adults and children who are uninsured and low-income, or who are enrolled in Medicaid, MIChild, or Healthy Kids.

I worked with others to draw a lot of attention and publicity to the plight of African American mothers who were having premature and low birth weight babies in our county.

We are trying to be more welcoming and user friendly for immigrants. We are translating more materials and we have welcome signs in many languages in our offices. We also share information with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and they have developed some special resources for immigrants in our county.

A training and networking program was started in 2012 for case and care managers. We have held two harm reduction conferences and it set the stage for ABLe Change and broader discussions across the county. It crosses medical and social service areas because often when there is an issue in one area it affects the others.

When and why did you join the WHI, and how has it been helpful?
When WHI was started, Bob Laverty was on the health plan board and he recruited me. I shared his vision that it was important to make sure our underserved populations received the health coverage they needed.

Being part of the WHI has helped to create a bigger network for collaboration and we have had the opportunity to provide our input on important issues. It has also produced some really excellent projects that are helping our community.

Who or what inspires you to keep going?
Kraut. The ability to make a difference in people’s lives.