by Natasha Ashenhurst
Debra Lemke envisions a world where more people use technology to access basic care. She awaits the day when our littlest ones can receive the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters. She is hopeful that those suffering with mental illness will receive the care they need.
Lemke is Kaiser Permanente’s District Director of Operations. She serves the Tahoma District and Olympia District. Kaiser Permanente is one of America’s leading health care providers and nonprofit health plans. Kaiser serves over 12.6 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia.
Lemke has served in the medical field for 18 years. Before moving to Washington State in 2019, she worked in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We caught up with her recently to get her perspective on the State of Health Care in Thurston County.
“When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t wait to explore our new home. Then the Pandemic hit and I spent the first year stuck at home. It was a rough time, but things are getting better. I’m excited to get out and explore this beautiful state,” she said.
Technology, Health Care Delivery and the Great Resignation
“I’ve been in health care for a long time. What I’ve seen since the pandemic is that the way we provide care is changing,” she said.
She explains that until recently, health care was a face-to-face experience. Today, patients talk to their doctor or nurse using technology. People are embracing the tools such as the phone, the computer, email or chat.
“There are so many great ways to get the care, and COVID forced us to become even more creative. Patients love being able to email their providers and do video visits. We tried for years to promote video with no success, but COVID got us there,” she said.
Lemke hopes that when patients learn how easy the technology is to use, the patient backlog will end.
“We still have a lot of patients nervous entering a building, so it is important we have other options,” she said.
The Great Resignation affected Kaiser Permanente, but now they see more people apply than leave, she said. “We provide a lot of benefits besides a salary. Kaiser Permanente offers scholarships and the ability to be an apprentice and learn on the job. We have MA to RN pathways, for example, and other ways to build our team,” she said.
Pressing Needs in Health Care
Lemke says they expect COVID vaccines and boosters for the youngest populations soon. Kaiser Permanente expects a hectic fall and they are gearing up to keep our community safe and healthy.
The other area of demand is mental health and wellness, said Lemke. “Health care systems throughout the state are experiencing a higher demand for mental health than we have resources. At Kaiser Permanente, we are trying to meet that challenge in new ways. For example, we provide the Calm app to our patients,” she said. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to care for our patient’s mental health.”
Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Populations
State law requires that everyone visiting a medical facility wear a mask. “There are many people who don’t understand why they must wear a mask when they visit a medical facility,” said Lemke. “We are still in a pandemic, and we must protect our most vulnerable populations. Masks are essential for this effort, and we don’t see this law going away.”