Techlandia Issue 5- 2021/2022 - Page 83

But as he took the reins as Pacific Northwest CEO last year, the pandemic’s onset forced Daniels to rethink the company’s priorities and rewrite much of the playbook he’d developed as a leader within UnitedHealthcare.

“As a business, we quickly shifted into more of a community stabilization role. UnitedHealthcare gave premiums back to employers and accelerated tens of millions of dollars in provider payments because they weren’t seeing their normal patient volume during the pandemic. Our focus was being there for people and eliminating as many barriers as we could,” Daniels said. “We moved to function virtually as a company pretty much overnight in terms of how we managed our teams and worked with customers. We had to be agile, and everything we did had a level of digital personalization.”

The changes came more quickly than Daniels and other UnitedHealthcare executives could have possibly imagined. And it changed the way UnitedHealthcare reaches customers.

Before the pandemic, just 5 percent of the insurer’s policyholders utilized virtual behavioral healthcare services. Now, 65 percent of those services are delivered virtually.

“Part of the growth was due to rapid advancements in technology, part to changes in reimbursement to incentivize providers to participate in these virtual networks of care, but most importantly, our UnitedHealthcare members found value in using these virtual tools,” Daniels said. “Now we’ve seen telehealth shift in a massively positive way. People can have best-in-class behavioral health visits and don’t have to leave their homes. Someone can live in Central Oregon and work with a therapist in Portland. It’s created a great experience for our members, and we expect to see even more positive advancements in this space moving forward.”

Pulling off that shift has taken all of Daniels’ experience and management skills. But it has also required him to reevaluate how he inspires others throughout the organization to accomplish its work. The football player with a hard-charging attitude had to learn to lead with vulnerability and compassion.

“As a young leader, I’m still trying to mature in my role. So, with the pandemic, I had to shift, and it was a challenge for me to do,” Daniels said. “I still have a high-performance approach, but the way I engage with team members, and as a business leader and community partner, there has to be a much more vulnerable and compassionate way forward.”

One thing Daniels hasn’t had to change is his support for charitable causes. UnitedHealthcare regularly sponsors the Rip City Race for the Roses, raising funds for Albertina Kerr’s children’s mental health services and programs for individuals in Oregon experiencing intellectual or developmental disabilities.

"There are some amazing feats of ingenuity, a lot of resourcefulness, and community leadership who will help us get through it. That’s what we’re proud to be part of."

— Gary Daniels, CEO of UnitedHealthcare