Before the Washtenaw Health Plan was created in 2001, there was the Washtenaw County Health Care program, which began in 1995 and was run by the Washtenaw County Health Department. Who better than an urban planner to plan a brand new program? Ellen Rabinowitz, the WHP Executive Director, has managed the Washtenaw Health Plan from its inception as a program of the health department to its metamorphosis into a nonprofit. [Read more about the history and development of the WHP here.]
Five years ago, Ellen added the job of Health Officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department to her position as the WHP Executive Director. While some people might have left one big job to take another big job, Ellen wanted to stay connected to the WHP—her first (work) love. And now, after working for Washtenaw County for over 30 years, Ellen is retiring. [And as she retires, two people will take her job! Jeremy Lapedis will become the WHP Executive Director and Jimena Loveluck will be the WCHD Health Officer.]
Ellen’s vision, as described in 2010, was simple: “We want to serve the most vulnerable members of our community, and we want to expand healthcare access to all.”
Nearly 10 years later, a lot has changed. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the work of the WHP changed dramatically. Many more people were eligible for Medicaid, Marketplace, or employer insurance—but low-income individuals still need help accessing services. And the work of the WHP has expanded—into not only helping people access health care, but also into case management, training, and emergency room diversion.
As Ellen noted at her retirement party, “I have been so lucky in my career to be surrounded by the most dedicated, passionate staff. I’ve tried to lay out a vision of health for all, and then I’ve tried to get out of the way and let the staff do their work. And boy have they done an amazing job! Thank you to the WHP staff. They changed the name from WHP—Washtenaw Health Plan—to WHP: We Help People—because that’s their approach. That’s their ethic. No problem too big or too small. They will do what it takes to get our clients everything they need.”
One of Ellen’s last acts? Making sure that the WHP has a strategic plan to guide us in the next few years. And although we will miss her, we know she will continue to do good work in the community. In Ellen’s own words: “There is still so much work to do, for all of us, to create the kind of community we all believe in. A community where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to achieve optimal health and well-being. So, like I’ve been saying, you have not heard the last of me. I’m leaving full of gratitude for the opportunity I’ve had to work at the WHP and Washtenaw County, the opportunity to work with all of you.”
Ellen Rabinowitz—the feeling is mutual. Good luck, and may you be blessed with good health and exciting opportunities in the years to come.