2003 Emerging Leaders

Chevell Thomas

In just three years of federal service, he created and voluntarily manages a collaborative outreach program that educates the disadvantaged about preventive health care.

Preventive medicine can save lives, but not every American has access to quality health care. Chevell Thomas of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to change that in the nation’s underserved communities, where traditional means of health education and care are not available to everyone.

To increase awareness among the nation’s disadvantaged about available health care services, Thomas created the Outreach to Rural and Underserved Communities Project (OTRUC). That’s a big job, and it requires the collaborative efforts of many agencies and organizations, an immense task that Thomas himself directs as a volunteer in addition to his daily responsibilities as a health insurance specialist at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The program is an outgrowth of Thomas’s CMS work on Medicaid programs for the elderly and people with disabilities and with a project sponsored by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Workgroup at CMS to increase Medicaid enrollment among the disadvantaged in Mississippi and South Carolina. The workgroup is composed of representatives from throughout the agency.

Thomas collaborates with CMS colleagues and partners at minority institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, and federal, state, and local governments to get information about preventive medical services to the people who need it most. Believing that local problems require local solutions, Thomas also collaborates with community members to develop solutions to their unique health problems.

The results of Thomas’s work are already being felt. People in underserved communities who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid are being enrolled at higher levels. Those enrolled are better informed about the preventive medical care for which they are eligible and are educating their friends and families about care they, too, may be eligible to receive.

The project has improved the health care of thousands of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Thomas is responsible for that remarkable success. “He took ownership and responsibility for making the effort work and keeping all the interested parties involved,” said his former CMS supervisor Theresa Pratt. “He really cares about getting health care to underserved populations.”

That dedication should come as no surprise. The recipient of two graduate degrees in education, Thomas began his career as a teacher. He eventually left the classroom to work as an educational consultant before coming to HHS just three years ago. But, in a sense, Chevell Thomas is still teaching, and those who learn from the program he created are rewarded with something more important than good grades: good health.