Premera Blue Cross has hired former Spokane Mayor David Condon to lead its expansion in Eastern Washington.
Condon, a Spokane native who served two terms as the city’s mayor, will start in the new role as Premera’s vice president of Eastern Washington on Feb. 10, ending months of speculation about his future.
He will lead Premera’s roster of more than 600 employees based in and around Spokane, a number that is expected to grow as it enters the health care delivery world in Spokane.
Premera opened its first primary care clinic, Vivacity Care Center, with three physicians and a nurse practitioner in north Spokane last month. The plan is to add two or three more clinics in 2020, including one clinic in downtown Spokane and another in Spokane Valley. The clinics will only be open to approximately 155,000 people with Premera or LifeWise individual market, group or Medicare Advantage health plans in Eastern Washington.
Part of Condon’s role is to facilitate the build out of these clinics, although the parameters of his day-to-day role at Premera are not tightly defined.
“There’s not like a punch list that we’ve put in place for David. We’re on a journey together and we’ll be exploring how he can contribute to our organization and the kinds of things he can lead for us,” said Premera President and CEO Jeff Roe.
Premera declined to reveal Condon’s salary.
Though Condon doesn’t have professional management experience in the health care industry, Roe lauded the former mayor’s leadership ability. Condon’s knowledge of Spokane “positions him really effectively to bring additional insights to our company,” Roe said.
“In some respects, managing within this organization will be much more straightforward than the challenges he faced as the leader of Spokane,” Roe said.
In pondering his future in recent months, Condon said he sought an opportunity to continue to have an effect on the community and challenge himself professionally. The Premera post fit the bill.
Condon views the position as an extension of the work to improve public health as a city leader, which included Premera as a “partner from day one.”
“It’s exciting to take on this opportunity and take on this challenge,” Condon said.
Prior to jumping into the 2011 mayor’s race at age 37, the bulk of Condon’s professional background was split between nearly eight years of military service and about six years working for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, where he last served as her deputy chief of staff.
A graduate of Gonzaga Prep and Boston College, Condon served as a second lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps of the Army.
Condon could not run for re-election in 2019 due to term limits and remained silent on his future prospects until Thursday’s announcement.
Health care was a “top issue” during his time in both McMorris Rodgers’ office and as mayor, Condon said.
Condon lauded what he called Premera’s commitment to the community, pointing to the company’s $1 million donation to facilitate the construction of the new Hope House, a shelter for women experiencing homelessness operated by Volunteers of America that is set to open this year.
Roe said Condon has “great vision” that he demonstrated as mayor, including his pledge to create a “safer, stronger, and smarter” community through the city’s updated strategic plan, which focused in part on improving public health.
As mayor, Condon routinely sought to balance financial efficiency with quality of service, including in the realm of public health.
Under Condon’s watch, the city’s fire department launched “alternative response units.” The city endeavored to more efficiently respond to low-level medical calls by eschewing use of larger fire trucks and replacing them with smaller vehicles.
Though controversial when he announced the first pilot of the new response plan, it’s now a staple of the fire department’s operating model.
“Premera was at the table so that we could provide better health care to our citizens,” Condon recalled.
Condon also sought to transform how 911 calls are handled in Spokane, but his efforts to join the city into a new regional emergency dispatch communications were ultimately rebuffed by the Spokane City Council.
Last year, Premera awarded the WSU College of Medicine and the Empire Health Foundation $10.5 million in grants to expand rural health care access. In his new role, Condon will be working collaboratively with the college and foundation as their grant-funded programs come to life. The WSU College of Medicine plans to use the grant funding to apply for and open rural residency programs for medical school graduates.
Roe said Premera is getting into the health care delivery business due to primary care provider shortages and wait times reported by members. Several parts of Spokane are designated as a health professional shortage area for primary care.
“We have members who are waiting six to nine months to get a primary care appointment today,” Roe said.
Premera will eventually look to expand its network of clinics beyond the Spokane area, potentially to rural regions, Roe said, and Condon will be at the helm of that endeavor.
“(We will) look at those places with capacity constraints and where Premera has membership, and we will seek to expand to those areas. There’s nothing definitive,” Roe said. “But it won’t stop at four (clinics).”
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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