Health plan provider looks after its members, employees

CenCal’s healthy work environment has its workforce in it for the long haul

By Annabelle Blair | Staff Writer

Shonna Stamps started working at CenCal Health in 2006. Now, more than 12 years later, she said she leaves at the end of the day knowing that she’s done meaningful work helping people access health insurance.

“Out of all the jobs I’ve had, this is the one I’ve been at the longest,” said Stamps, who has been promoted a few times to her current role as a health navigator. “And that has to do with it really feeling like a family here, and I really enjoy the work I do in member services.”

The publicly-sponsored health plan provides coverage to Medi-Cal beneficiaries in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Headquartered in Santa Barbara, it expanded into SLO County in 2008.

CenCal employees average a little more than a 7-year stint with the organization.

As an employer, the organization’s greatest assets are its 250-some staff members, said Karyn Fish, director of human resources. The average employee tenure is a little more than seven years, and nearly a third of its employees have worked there for over 10 years.

“If you were to ask our staff why they work here at CenCal health, although they will tell you it’s a great place to work, they will also tell you they feel strongly about our mission,” Fish said.

Employees receive annual performance evaluations, and many departments complete quarterly reviews, Fish said, so that goals, expectations and feedback are a regular part of the job. Wages are also evaluated annually by an outside consultant to ensure they remain competitive.

“We’re a small company, so when there’s not vertical growth, we offer horizontal growth,” she said. “This gives staff the opportunity to grow and accept more responsibility, widening their experience through levels of engagement.”

CEO Bob Freeman told the Business Times in an interview last month that focusing on employee training and education is a future goal for the organization as it pushes to be an “employer of choice.”

The agency is in the process of revamping its employee orientation, Fish said, adding that it wants to encourage personal and professional growth.

“We hope future leaders of CenCal will be staff that we’ve developed within,” she said.

The organization’s human resources department has a “live-well, be well” philosophy when it comes to benefits. CenCal focuses on employee services that offer physical, financial and emotional health.

CenCal covers up to 80 percent of medical, dental and vision health care. It offers rewards for alternative transportation as well as wellness benefits and support for continued educational and professional development.

Other perks include CalPERS pension plans, an on-site gym with options to pay for a fitness trainer or massage, schedule flexibility, competitive wages, quarterly team-building events and consistent communication through monthly company-wide meetings.

“We feel strongly about work-life balance. We want you to do your job, do a good job – but we want you to be happy while doing it,” Fish said.

Staff can utilize wellness reimbursements for things like gym memberships, exercise classes and workout gear. Alternative travel stipends incentivise employees to carpool, take a bus, bike or walk to work, and on-site showers and lockers are available.

The agency also offers around $1,500 per employee annually in professional development reimbursement for education, tuition or training that contributes to job performance. This may include joining a public speaking group or taking a finances or business leadership class.

Stamps said she has taken advantage of 1-2 day classes, mainly focused on customer service, and a few business courses. The education has supported her individual and intellectual growth, she said, “which helps me be, overall, a better person and, of course, a better employee.”

CenCal says it encourages employee camaraderie and team building with quarterly potlucks or barbecues. Every summer, it throws an anniversary celebration where staff are invited to bring family members to work for a half day and enjoy a picnic lunch together – a favorite tradition among employees, Stamps said.

“I think that’s so we can let off a little bit of steam,” she said of the quarterly events, especially for employees in the member services department who often talk on the phone with patients who may not feel well or may be calling because they are upset about something.

She said the community aspect of the job is important to her, and CenCal’s approach to serving its members while supporting its staff makes for an engaging work environment.

“It’s nice to have the little benefits and camaraderie we have,” she said. “To be able to blow off a little steam and then get back in the chair and do the good work we do every day.”