Emerging Health Leaders: Rachel Kotok Goldberg, B.S.N., RN, of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

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MHE Publication, MHE October 2021, Volume 3, Issue 10

Rachel Kotok Goldberg is one of 13 up-and-coming health leaders featured in this annual Managed Healthcare Executive series.

Rachel Kotok Goldberg, B.S.N., RN, director of behavioral health client partnerships and product innovation at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ) in Newark

I grew up in Rochester, New York, earned a B.S. in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania (Hillman Scholar), and started my clinical career as a registered nurse in labor and delivery at Mount Sinai in New York City. Prior to joining Horizon BCBSNJ, I was an associate vice president of quality and compliance at ComplexCare Solutions, a supplier of in-home risk adjustment assessments and care management interventions for health plans.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

I am extremely fortunate to work for an amazing leader and mentor, Suzanne Kunis, vice president of behavioral health at Horizon. She empowers her team to be creative and effective and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to deliver for Horizon’s members. She has shaped my approach to leadership and the duty I feel to fight every day to put mental well-being on equal footing with physical health.

I also have to mention my husband, who is my greatest supporter, and my dad for always teaching me to think of problems as puzzles that need to be solved.

Why did you pursue a career in healthcare?

I knew that I would work in healthcare since I was a little girl. My mother is a nurse. I loved going to work with her and seeing how much her patients appreciated her efforts in helping them get through a challenging time. At Penn, my professors consistently highlighted how broad the nursing world is, challenging us to create our place and make a difference. It wasn’t until a few years into my career as a clinical nurse that I decided to heed their advice and take a leap beyond direct patient care.

Which career accomplishment has given you the greatest satisfaction?

My work at Horizon has been the role of a lifetime. I was the third employee hired to a new Horizon Behavioral Health team charged with charting the strategic direction and executing the development of our behavioral health capabilities. Suzanne empowered me to develop and launch from scratch a full continuum of evidence-based, outcomes-focused programs and services that guide members to the right behavioral health services for their individual needs.

What has your organization’s role been in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines?

As the largest health insurer in New Jersey, Horizon has engaged with public and private partners statewide to help many people get vaccinated as quickly as possible. We put an emphasis on connecting with the state’s many racial and ethnic minorities and worked with community leaders to dispel myths, deliver facts and promote vaccination.

What would be the best way to reduce healthcare inequities in the U.S.?

At Horizon, we have made a companywide “Pledge to Achieve Lasting and Positive Change” and have joined with Blue plans across the country to confront racial health disparities. There is a significant underrepresentation of people of color and ethnic diversity within the behavioral health workforce. As of 2019, approximately 83% of the psychology workforce identified as White. This lack of diversity is even more acute in the context of the behavioral health clinician shortage that exists nationwide. Increasing the diversity of behavioral health clinicians is essential to addressing inequities in access to treatment, eliminating stigmas, and reducing racial and ethnic mental health inequities.

Name a book or article that everyone in healthcare should read.

Normalizing mental health and reducing stigma are fundamental to improving health and the healthcare system. In “Lift the Mask,” a documentary and book produced by The Quell Foundation, people reveal their experiences with mental health and substance use, taking the discussion beyond the clinical aspect. Only by raising awareness and acceptance and humanizing mental health can we create a society in which everyone feels as comfortable discussing anxiety as diabetes.