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Eric Hunter, MBA, CEO of CareOregon, say that “building relationships with people through professional organizations and prior assignments kept me on the radar for the right opportunities.”
Climbing the Career Ladder: Fifth of 10 profiles of healthcare executives and their careers.
Eric Hunter might have had a career in the oil patch rather than in healthcare were it not for a winning gubernatorial campaign.
Hunter majored in petroleum engineering at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, but the struggling oil industry of the early 1990s led him to reexamine his career path. In 1990, Hunter joined the Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign of David Walters. After Walters, a Democrat, won, he hired Hunter to be the executive director of boards and commission for the governor’s office. Hunter became involved in the launching of Oklahoma’s Medicaid managed care, and he eventually moved to the newly created Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the Medicaid program.
He says his work habits came from his parents, who worked hard to be the first generation of their families to go to college. And although Hunter initially had his sights set on majoring in engineering, they also gave him footsteps to follow into healthcare. His father, Charles, was a U.S. Army medic and lab technician. His mother, Theresa, was a nurse.
The ACA added another fortunate turn to Hunter’s career. He was working for ValueOptions Behavioral Health in Dallas as the provisions of the landmark healthcare reform law were being implemented. ValueOptions had a North Texas Behavioral Health Authority contract for behavioral health and substance use disorder services. “As valuable as I knew the behavioral health system was to community health, I recognized that I wanted to be involved in work that encompassed more of the individual and community healthcare continuum.”
So Hunter pulled up stakes and headed to Boston, where he was chief operating officer at the Boston Medical Center HealthNet Plan, a Medicaid managed care organization, from 2013 to 2016. While working in Boston, he earned his MBA from Northeastern University. He has been president and CEO of CareOregon, a 500,000-member Medicaid managed care plan in Portland, since June 2016.
Hunter says he likes to believe that he was hired as CareOregon’s CEO because of his willingness to manage work in multiple states and different types of health plans over the years.
“Building relationships with people through professional organizations and prior assignments kept me on the radar for the right opportunities,” Hunter says. “Being willing to participate in and learn from leaders at ACHP (Alliance of Community Health Plans), ACAP (Association for Community Affiliated Plans) and IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement) not only educated me in the business but also helped to build those relationships.”
With CareOregon, Hunter continues, he has the honor of managing an established entity with strong community ties and a presence based on innovation, partnership and cooperation. “We have no ownership or governance barriers to doing the right thing for our members and the safety net providers who serve them.”
Reflecting on his own career ladder, Hunter says that being bold and believing in yourself are key to career success. It may be scary, but he says growth takes place when people get out of their comfort zone.
“You must be open to incorporating new ideas into your thinking to take the best of all your experience forward,” Hunter advises. “Changing companies or volunteering for new assignments in your current company may give you trepidation, but by expanding your base of knowledge, you will be more open to new ideas and more inclined to use best practices wherever you go.”