Many Americans are struggling with high out-of-pocket costs for health care.
April 12--After a long career shaping health care policies at both the private and very public levels in Minnesota and Washington, Lois Quam has found another project: helping heal the planet.
At least that's what she sees as the mission of the Nature Conservancy, the organization she joined last week as chief operating officer. She will be based in Arlington, Va.
Quam was a longtime UnitedHealth executive and oversaw significant growth at the Minnetonka-based health care giant. During those years, she also worked on public health care initiatives, from chairing Gov. Rudy Perpich's Minnesota Health Care Access committee, beginning in 1989, to working with then-first lady Hillary Clinton in 1993 on the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform.
In 2011, she reunited with Clinton, then secretary of state, at the U.S. State Department, and also worked with current Secretary John Kerry leading global health initiatives across a number of organizations.
In an interview last week, on her second day at the Nature Conservancy, Quam described her new role. Her answers were edited for clarity and consistency.
How does your health care work translate into your new job at the Nature Conservancy?
"Illness is related to pollution, unsafe water; and protecting the land and water that our lives depend on is one of the effective ways to help us stay well.
"I've always tried to find a better way to do things: How can we find better or more effective ways to protect our land and water?
"I like finding those gems, those really good ideas. I like taking good ideas and bringing them to full potential.
"I'll be COO, part of the central leadership team, helping the Nature Conservancy be as effective as possible."
Describe the Nature Conservancy and the challenges it faces, balancing an environmental agenda with the need for economic development.
"We have 4,000 employees worldwide; we operate in all 50 states and 38 countries.
"There are a number of challenges before us. We have a long history of protecting land, developing land trusts, protecting precious ecosystems that are under threat.
"It's a growing world and a growing Minnesota. New industries are developing land and water. How do we live together? There are increases in farming, destruction of forests; the pace of that is what pulled us from being a U.S. organization to a global one.
"Taking on that challenge involves bringing people around the table. I'm very strong at convening people, getting people together.
"We have a strong focus on science. We're a very collaborative organization. We like to sit down with people, local land owners, to find win-win solution."
What ties do you maintain to Minnesota?
"I'm a Minnesotan through and though. I grew up in Marshall and came to St. Paul to attend Macalester College before going on to a Rhodes Scholarship. I still have a home on Portland Avenue in St. Paul; my parents live in Northfield.
"The Nature Conservancy has a significant and very effective organization in Minnesota, 20,000 members and four offices around the state, and this allows me to work on an international scale and a local scale.
"I try to get to Minnesota about once a month."
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