Jan. 1, 1994, was the first official day of operations for BlueCare Tennessee, a BlueCross subsidiary serving Medicaid members in Tennessee. On that day, Amber Cambron, then a customer service supervisor, took a phone call from a member. Twenty-six years later, that conversation has stuck with her.
“We had so many calls coming through, the entire company’s phone lines were overwhelmed,” Amber recalls. “So, everyone — supervisors, managers, it didn’t matter — was hopping on the phone. I happened to speak with a gentleman who had questions about the BlueCare program and benefits.”
Now the president of BlueCare, Amber had been with BlueCross for about six years at that point. She knew the population served by BlueCare differed from those who were covered under commercial group contracts. Still, the direction of the call surprised her.
“This gentleman was struggling with the details laid out in front of him, and I initially didn’t realize he couldn’t read,” she says. “Then I realized, ‘This is our member. This is what their needs look like.’ Some don’t know how to read; many may not have graduated high school. Many come from some of the hardest-hit, low-income areas.”
“I read the handbook and explained things to him, and we were on the phone a while,” she continues. “It ended up being a great call, and that conversation was such an eye-opening experience for me.”
“From day one, the whole team made a commitment that our members were not going to be treated as second-class citizens, which is often how others had made them feel.”
Finding her passion
Amber graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in business administration and management. And the Red Bank native’s first concern, like most people in their early 20s, was finding a job to build a career on. So, she wasn’t going to jump at the first opportunity that came her way.
“During college, I worked for a company that manufactured cold packs and physical therapy equipment,” Amber recalls. “They offered me a full-time position — but in 1986, there wasn’t a single female manager there. I loved the job and the people, but I’d studied too hard to settle and I just didn’t see any growth opportunities.”
Another opportunity soon came her way: a supervisor-in-training program at BlueCross. Amber still wasn’t thinking about a long-term career with an insurance company, but getting in as a management trainee was appealing. She was hired for the six-month training, which led to a management job in the commercial claims division.
“I enjoyed what I was doing in commercial operations, and I was working with a great team, but there was not a lot of career movement within the company at the time,” Amber says. “I enjoyed working with our group accounts, but you really didn’t get to know the members, at least not in the way we do today in BlueCare.”
It was the start of a new program in 1993, and a lateral move that accompanied it, that ultimately shifted her perspective and helped shape her overall leadership style.
The State of Tennessee was launching TennCare, moving its Medicaid program to managed care. BlueCross was the first company to sign on to support it, but there was some uncertainty about the program’s future. So the BlueCare division started with a limited staff.
Amber had no cold feet whatsoever. Seeking a new challenge, she joined BlueCare as a supervisor, even though it wasn’t a promotion.
“None of us knew much about government business, other than it was much different than commercial, and that interested me,” she says. “I thought, ‘If this doesn’t work out, I’m still young in my career and I can still move around, or maybe go back where I was.’”
But after that phone call on her first day, Amber quickly realized how much she wanted it to succeed — not just for job security, but for the people they were serving. At the time, it was often said that if TennCare doesn’t survive it won’t be because of BlueCross; we were committed to being a good partner to the state of Tennessee and to the Tennesseans we were serving.
“The Medicaid population includes the most vulnerable Tennesseans in the state,” Amber says. “They have issues that stretch far beyond their medical needs. They needed people to care about them, to hear them, to help them navigate a complicated health care system — and they needed to be able to trust us, and that took time. Early on, the road was rocky, but our team developed a unique synergy and culture of trust. We relied on each other just as much as our members had to rely on us for the program to succeed.”
When asked how she kept her team motivated through new challenges, she instead credits those who motivated her.
“We all watched out for each other — gradually building that trust wasn’t about our own personal journey,” she says. “We weren’t trying to step on each other to reach the next level. We had a mission to be good stewards for these members whose stories were moving us every single day.”
An evolving source of support
When you’re part of a program for 27 years, you’re bound to see change. Amber’s helped BlueCare weather its share of storms and contributed to its many successes over the years. Her commitment to BlueCare members — who now number nearly 600,000 — led her to her current role. Even as president, she continues learning how to best serve the BlueCare population.
“For 27 years, our mission has been to serve our members, but the landscape has changed,” she says. “Today, we recognize that our members have more than just a physical need, a behavioral health need, or a long-term care need. They’re affected by challenges referred to as social determinants of health. Many can’t find healthy food options, much less pay for them. Many can’t pay for electricity. They may have multiple children, each with their own individual challenges. It can be extremely stressful. We’ve learned these are typically the dominant gaps we need to help address.”
“If we can coordinate helping somebody turn on their lights, then they may listen to us and let us help coach them to address a preventive care need, like a mammogram.”
Amber and her team have participated in empathy workshops to learn more about their members’ daily lives. And BlueCare has launched a successful digital platform, including text messaging, since that’s how many members now prefer to stay in touch.
Amber’s led other technology advances, as well. Every member is unique, and her team uses data and predictive modeling to identify groups with common health and social needs. Then they can tailor outreach plans to help members get the right mix of support.
“Before, if you had behavioral health needs, and you were pregnant and diabetic, you were placed on an outreach list for the most predominant condition,” Amber says. “If behavioral health was your greatest need, you’d remain on that list until those issues were resolved. Then you’d get help with your pregnancy or your diabetes. Population health management has been an evolution. Today, through technology and outreach, we are able to weigh all aspects including social determinants, creating a more personal and holistic view of the member so we can wrap an integrated care team around him/her and address all his/her individual needs simultaneously.”
Staying driven and inspired
Amber’s commitments extend beyond BlueCare members. She and her husband have five children between them, as well as three granddaughters who keep them busy. They enjoy spending time together outdoors and often venture to their cabin in Old Fort, Tenn. One of Amber’s favorite hobbies is photography, and her BlueCross office walls are adorned with pictures she’s taken of family pets, sunflowers and cows.
“I’m a cow stalker,” she says with a laugh. “I randomly took my first cow picture and I liked it, and out near our cabin, there’s lots of fields with cows. They’re just always at peace and in a pretty setting, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. We’ll be driving and I’ll say, ‘Stop the car, I’ve got to get out and take a picture.’”
Another big hobby? Beekeeping.
“We knew someone getting out of the business, so we bought 10 working hives from him last summer,” Amber says. “Now we’re up to 17 hives from our original three at our cabin. I never thought I’d be wearing a bee suit and loving it! It’s a fascinating and fun hobby, and the best part is I am able to share it with my husband, not to mention the gallons of honey we hope to have this year.”
Joining the photos of peaceful settings on her wall is a sign that likewise evokes peace: “Not to spoil the ending, but everything’s going to be OK.” Amber considers that her mantra.
“BlueCare developed a culture of openness, of trust, inclusion and diversity. I’m very proud to be part of that. If and when I ever retire, what I’ll miss the most is showing up and being part of an amazing team of people who work hard every day to improve the lives of our members — they’re my BlueCare family.”