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President and CEO of Highmark Wholecare’s Focus on Improving Community Health

Leading one of Pennsylvania’s foremost managed care organizations, Ellen Duffield recognizes health goes well beyond physical needs. As president and CEO of Highmark Wholecare, she sets the operational and strategic course to deliver high-quality Medicaid and Medicare dual-eligible plans focused on whole person care to more than 400,000 members.

It’s a calling that was ingrained at a young age.

“I’ve always been involved in government programs, and I have a strong affinity for the populations we serve,” she said. “I grew up in a multi-generational household, and I saw firsthand the impact of fragmented care, what happens when people don’t engage with the system, and what happens when someone doesn’t have the best outcome.”

That background also goes a long way to explaining Duffield’s focus on improving community health, having worked recently with Habitat for Humanity and Thrive 18, as well as currently serving on boards for Literacy Pittsburgh and the March of Dimes’ local chapter. These organizations each play a vital role in building resilient communities where people can flourish, no matter their circumstances.

Literacy Pittsburgh, for instance, offers free educational programs for adults and families, helping nearly 5,000 people annually. The link between literacy and health is indisputable, and when people can understand and act on their health information — strong “health literacy,” that is — we see better outcomes.

“It’s about addressing the most fundamental needs of the community,” Duffield said, “and what we’re doing at Highmark and Highmark Wholecare is highly aligned with what these organizations are doing. We’re in the community where our members are — where they live, where they work — and these organizations beside us are building stronger communities.”

Duffield takes deep pride in Highmark’s long history of services and volunteerism, but she also understands the work is never finished. She recalled a visit to a food pantry in Central Pennsylvania over the summer, where she asked how many meals were served each year. The answer was staggering and humbling — more than a half million meals and services provided.

“I grew up in Pennsylvania, I was educated in Pennsylvania, I live in Pennsylvania — and you think you know the state and have an appreciation for what people are going through,” she said. “But when you get out there and work with the individuals who are using the services or providing the services, you realize how critical the work that we do, the work these organizations do, is as a safety net in their communities. The need is significant and has been growing.”

To meet that need, Duffield looks forward to deepening partnerships with community organizations to match Highmark Wholecare’s mission and establishing new relationships throughout the company’s wide footprint — not to mention getting involved at a personal level.

“I always tell people that you get more from volunteering than you give,” she said, “so to me, it’s a tremendous way to connect with and understand our members.”