Five Questions With: Christopher D. Palmieri

Christopher D. Palmieri, CEO and president of Boston-based Commonwealth Care Alliance, discusses the nonprofit’s plans to expand to Rhode Island this year.

Commonwealth Care Alliance is a health care organization that offers care for people who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare and who have complex medical, behavioral health and social needs. 

PBN: What is Commonwealth Care Alliance’s model for care? Do providers make home visits or do patients typically visit doctors at an office?

PALMIERI: The short answer: It depends on each individual member’s needs.

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Commonwealth Care Alliance is an integrated care system influencing innovative models of complex care nationwide. A not-for-profit, community-based payer and provider serving over 40,000 individuals with significant health needs, CCA’s uncommon care model is proven effective in addressing unmet social determinants of health, behavioral health and medical needs.

We provide our members with a complete range of care, including preventive care, medical visits and treatment, dental care, behavioral health care, durable medical equipment, and social services and supports, and every CCA member has a dedicated care team that coordinates these services wherever the member needs them.

Our approach to care grows out of a culture that values meaningful care partnerships, ensuring that every individual is treated as a whole person, and respecting each person’s dignity, autonomy, voice and choice. We believe that everyone, especially individuals with complex health needs, deserves to have options when it comes to their care – and our team works directly alongside our members to ensure their day-to-day care and long-term services are delivered at the access point that works best for their needs, whether at home, in a medical office or at other locations in their communities.

PBN: It was announced in late March that Commonwealth Care Alliance will work with Mass Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to provide COVID-19 vaccines for all homebound residents in the state, regardless of whether they are CCA members. Do you foresee CCA being involved in a similar effort in Rhode Island?

PALMIERI: As we are currently in the early stages of bringing our services and care model to Rhode Island, we can’t speak to Rhode Island’s statewide vaccination efforts. We are, however, extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in Massachusetts.

CCA was the first health plan in Massachusetts to offer vaccination services to its own members, including homebound individuals. Following the guidelines set by state regulators, we began administering in-home vaccinations for our eligible homebound members as soon as we received our first supply of doses in mid-February. We expect to have fully vaccinated every one of CCA’s homebound members who opted to receive the vaccine by the end of April.

Our early success in vaccinating our own homebound members led to an opportunity to work with Gov. Baker’s administration to lead Massachusetts’ statewide effort to vaccinate the more than 25,000 homebound individuals across the state. CCA will lead all the central operations of this vaccination effort, including providing a technological infrastructure, conducting patient outreach and scheduling, and overseeing distribution logistics. Eligible homebound residents will be identified and screened by the state with support from local partners such as Aging Services Access Points and boards of health. The state will then refer eligible residents to CCA.

From the onset of the pandemic, we made it clear to Massachusetts leaders that we were ready and willing to help in any way we can. Between working with the Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Command Center to open and operate Isolation & Recovery Sites for marginally housed individuals and now providing leadership on the state’s homebound vaccination effort, we are proud to continue to make that promise a reality.

PBN: Commonwealth Care Alliance has operated solely in Massachusetts since its beginnings in 1976. Why make the move to Rhode Island?

PALMIERI: Above all else, we’re looking to enter the Rhode Island market because we believe we can add value and improve the quality of care for Rhode Islanders who have significant needs. Our model of care is consistently recognized as one of the best in the nation at finding and engaging traditionally hard-to-reach individuals, and our data shows improved quality and health outcomes for our members across the board.

Our two health plans, Senior Care Options – for individuals ages 65 and over who have Medicare and MassHealth Standard or only MassHealth Standard – and One Care – a Massachusetts demonstration Medicare-Medicaid plan for dual eligible individuals ages 21 to 64 – have both consistently reported significant decreases in our members’ acute medical/surgical admissions, hospital admissions and readmissions, and in-patient expenses, as well as high rates of member satisfaction.

As our presence grows in Massachusetts, we see both an opportunity and a responsibility to expand our mission and proven model to new markets. Our proximity to Rhode Island, combined with the state’s clear demand for choice when it comes to this traditionally high-risk population, makes Rhode Island a natural fit.

PBN: Is Commonwealth Care Alliance going to be hiring staff as it moves into Rhode Island?

PALMIERI: Yes, absolutely. We have no plans to be a “Massachusetts organization with a Rhode Island presence.” We have every intention to fully integrate Commonwealth Care Alliance within both Rhode Island’s health care community at large and into the neighborhoods and communities we’ll serve.

We are currently in the process of interviewing candidates for a new leadership position that will be charged with overseeing our Rhode Island operations, and, in the coming months, we plan to open a fully staffed physical office space in Rhode Island.

We are proud of our role as a job creator in Massachusetts. Our workforce – currently more than 1,500 employees strong – has more than doubled in size over just the past five years, and we are confident we will be able to recreate that job-creating success here in Rhode Island.

PBN: Commonwealth Care Alliance says its mission is to improve care for people who have complex medical, behavioral, or social needs or disabilities. How do you plan on reaching this population in Rhode Island to let them know CCA is offering a new health care option?

PALMIERI: We are strong believers in the idea that a successful health care delivery system must start at a focused, community level. Having “boots on the ground” in the communities we serve helps our team ensure our members are receiving care at the appropriate access points.

We are currently in the process of introducing our CCA team to leaders in every corner of Rhode Island’s health care sector, and as our market entry timeline progresses, we are committed to making the right investments to reach the local communities and mission-aligned organizations who serve these populations and can benefit from our model.

That work is in its early stages as of this writing, but we are making progress. We look forward to continuing this momentum in the months to come.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.