Behavioral Health Medical Director for Superior HealthPlan Embraces Culturally Sensitive Healthcare

Health & Wellness


Dr Sandra Vale

Behavioral Health Medical Director for Superior HealthPlan Embraces Culturally Sensitive Healthcare

Centene serves 1 in 15 individuals across the U.S., with 27 percent of the members we care for identifying as Hispanic. At our state-based health plans, it is a priority to provide high quality, culturally sensitive healthcare services, and that is why we hire from within the community.

In Texas, Dr. Sandra D. Vale is a Supervisory Behavioral Health Medical Director at our subsidiary, Superior HealthPlan. Excerpts from a Q&A interview with Dr. Vale highlight the health plan’s commitment to meet the cultural, ethnic, racial, and linguistic needs of members, and she also shared her insights for future Latinx healthcare professionals.

How can Hispanic healthcare professionals address the health disparities that many Hispanic and other minorities experience?

Health literacy and cultural competency are two main tools Hispanic healthcare professionals can utilize to fight this disparity. By enhancing cultural sensitivity and health literacy, this may increase Hispanics’ access to and utilization of health services and foster healthy lifestyles that can be a main preventer of obesity and other associated chronic medical conditions in this population.  

At Superior HealthPlan in Texas, we take proactive steps to ensure members have access to available providers that meet their geographic as well as cultural needs. We connect members to bilingual practitioners within the communities where they live. Monthly webinars on health literacy and health disparities help to improve the cultural competency of our provider network while we promote diverse viewpoints in governance and leadership within the communities we serve. Superior recently obtained the Multicultural Distinction through the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), which recognized our dedication to meeting the diverse needs of our members.

How did joining Superior HealthPlan strengthen your professional impact?  

Medicaid and government-sponsored managed care presented the opportunity to positively impact a larger sector of the population, far beyond what I was able to achieve in previous clinical positions.  

Before transitioning to Centene, I was the adult behavioral health medical director for the Center for Health Care Services (CHCS), Bexar County’s local mental health authority (LMHA). At CHCS, I was seeing day in and day out the struggles of the serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) population; in other words, people diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression. It felt like I was at the tip of an iceberg equipped with only a chisel, and I was endlessly tapping away at this iceberg with minimal results - the iceberg being our healthcare system.

By moving into the Medicaid arena as a medical director for Centene, I now had far stronger ‘equipment’ and supports, including this bigger platform to truly be a change agent for this population. It is something I often refer to as ‘individualized population health’ because the work still focuses on that individual while also holding the opportunity to impact the population at large.

Like many other Centene Medical Directors who want to remain in touch with direct patient care, you also provide other clinical services in the community.  

For nearly six years, I have been providing clinical care in a mental health urgent care setting. This clinic serves an important purpose in the San Antonio and surrounding communities by focusing on same-day access to psychiatry services that may otherwise not be available for months with traditional outpatient psychiatry. This clinic works with patients until they are able to transition to a traditional outpatient psychiatry practice or another appropriate treatment resource.  

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of Hispanic and Latinx health care professionals? 

Hispanics are the largest minority group, yet Hispanic professionals have been historically underrepresented in the health professions. As Hispanic/Latinx health care professionals, we have a unique opportunity to both maintain and honor our traditions and culture while also providing a paradigm shift into aging well and aging gracefully without chronic illness impairing functionality years or even decades before death. We can do this by being purposeful with our own learning of nutrition and exercise and imparting those healthy lifestyle choices to our Hispanic communities.  

Is Superior HealthPlan focusing on a behavioral health impacts of COVID-19?

Social isolation was already becoming a key public health focus that has now been exploited by this crisis. We could call it an epidemic within a pandemic. We are beginning to understand the devastating impact of social isolation, which has significantly increased risk for premature death, which rivals that of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Superior is working with Pyx Health, an app-based engagement platform that focuses on addressing loneliness and social isolation through timely interventions using both empathic technology and human intervention. This pilot program will focus on 10,000 members to start.