Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hooper: Focus on wellness drives WellCare director

Dr. Traci Ferguson

Dr. Traci Ferguson

Somewhere between various stints at hospitals around the state, Dr. Traci Ferguson began to contemplate how best to help patients.

Ferguson, who joined WellCare in 2010 and now serves as WellCare's chief medical director for medical management, came to the realization that managed health care might help her have a larger impact.

"I saw that I was helping one-on-one but I was only helping as many people as I could see in that day," said Ferguson, who holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University, a doctor of medicine degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a master's degree in business administration from Howard University.

"Moving to WellCare, since we focus on the same members I took care of in the hospital — Medicaid, low income and sometimes those that didn't have insurance — I'm able to help with our policies. And because we're in so many different states, I'm helping so many more people."

The help comes in trying to assist WellCare members by promoting the importance of preventive health care. With a team of care managers and health coaches, WellCare's efforts go beyond encouraging doctor visits and aim to raise awareness.

The company even has a community assistance line (866-775-2192) to help anyone — not just members — connect to social services including financial, food, education and utility assistance, transportation, disability and homeless services, support groups and child care.

Sometimes basic needs supersede a focus on health.

In her role, Ferguson, 42, oversees much of the education and awareness effort, and the company maintains a specific focus on diabetes. She serves on the Tampa Bay Community Leadership Board of the American Diabetes Association, and earlier this month, the company announced its employees and the WellCare Community Foundation teamed to raise more than $110,000 to support the 2016 American Diabetes Association's Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes.

Ferguson said diabetes affects a number of WellCare members as well as its employees, family members and friends. The employees raised more than $75,000 of the total, no doubt because they were personally inspired.

Personal inspiration also drives Ferguson. In 2013, her brother died at age 35 of complications from Type 2 diabetes. She found frustration in efforts to help. Unable to work, he struggled with getting good insurance. Obese, he also struggled to change his eating and lifestyle.

It's not an uncommon story. More than 29 million Americans live with diabetes and 86 million live with prediabetes. As many as one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.

And it's preventable.

"At the end, my brother was finally at peace," Ferguson said. "But that doesn't need to happen. There are things that can be done and you need to do it together."

Of course, Ferguson recognizes that for many WellCare members — the company focuses primarily on Medicare and Medicaid populations — making the necessary changes proves difficult even when they have the will.

"It's always cheaper to go and buy these processed, high-sugar foods than to have access to vegetables and fruits," Ferguson said. "If you look at the places that have a dollar menu, if you have a limited amount of money, and that's what's in your neighborhood, that's where you're going to go. There's no fresh market in a lot of areas."

Helping WellCare members find success in eating healthier and exercising more spurs Ferguson each and every day. It even bleeds over into her personal life. She recently overheard her son lecturing friends about the amount of sugar in Gatorade.

With Thanksgiving over, Ferguson said it's important to bounce back from a big day of eating with a focus on portion control, eating more fruits and vegetables, and mixing in workouts. Even a post-meal walk can be of benefit.

"I talk to my team and I say, 'If you're able to talk to somebody whether it's just listening to them, pointing them in the right direction or just encouraging them, you've had a great day," Ferguson said.

Let's hope more great days lie ahead for everyone trying to get healthier. For those trying to help family members eat better and exercise more, don't call it nagging, call it love.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Focus on wellness drives WellCare director 11/22/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2016 3:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Confederacy loses again, this time in court


    TAMPA — While the Hillsborough County commission was wrestling over the future of Confederate monument at the county courthouse, a lawsuit has been playing out in court over how best to represent the Civil War across town at Veterans Memorial Park.

    Supporters of a Civil War display at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum had a brochure made to attract donations. They argue in a lawsuit that their efforts were thwarted when the park's executive committee changed their plans.
  2. Iconic Ballet Nacional de Cuba ballet will perform at Straz in May


    Besides fine tobacco, Ballet Nacional de Cuba is considered by many to be the island nation's most distinctive export.

    Ballet Nacional de Cuba, one of the world's premiere ballet companies, will perform at the Straz Center in May.

 [Courtesy of Carlos Quezada]
  3. I-275 south closed in St. Pete heading towards Sunshine Skyway


    ST. PETERSBURG — All southbound lanes of Interstate 275 on the southern tip of Pinellas County were closed Wednesday afternoon due to a traffic crash with injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  4. Bucs-Jaguars: Five things to watch Thursday in Jacksonville


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs have their second preseason game here Friday against the Jaguars, and here are five things to keep an eye on as Tampa Bay moves closer to paring its roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 3.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. Former Rep. Corrine Brown denied new trial; to be sentenced in November


    JACKSONVILLE (AP)—A federal judge has denied a request for a new trial by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was found guilty of taking money from a sham charity that was purported to be aiding poor students.

    Corrine Brown