An Executive Q&A with Jeneen Iwugo

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Jeneen Iwugo, CMS
Jeneen Iwugo, CMS

Jeneen Iwugo is the Deputy Director of the Quality Improvement and Innovation Group (QIIG) in the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality (CCSQ) at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In that role, she is responsible for the management and operations of five divisions, including Beneficiary Healthcare Improvement and Safety; ESRD, Population and Community Health; Program Management, Communications and Evaluation; Quality Improvement Innovations Model Testing; and Transforming Clinical Practices. Before becoming Deputy Director, Iwugo helped lead Beneficiary and Family-Centered Care (BFCC) activities for six years with CMS’ QIO Program. She has served as a Subject Matter Expert, Government Task Lead, QIO Confidentiality Regulation Lead, Special Assistant and Division Director. Among other accomplishments, Iwugo co-led CMS’ reorganization of the QIO Program in 2014, including the separation of its beneficiary case review work from its quality improvement work. Prior to joining CMS’ CCSQ, Iwugo worked at the agency’s Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) on Medicaid-managed care policy, state plan amendments, demonstrations and waivers. Iwugo also has served as Adjunct Faculty and taught Speech Communication for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Q. What are your top priorities in your new role as Deputy Director of the Quality Improvement and Innovation Group?

One of my first priorities is to do everything in my power to equip the QIOs with the tools they’ll need to reach the bold new goals of the QIO Program’s ongoing five-year performance period and to work with them to raise the health care community’s expectations for the outcomes we can achieve through the QIO Program. At this point, CMS is striving for patient safety achievements and successes that we did not think were possible several years ago. I see QIOs as perfectly nestled in the middle of a major health care transformation to implement delivery system reform, improve patient safety and increase health care data transparency. I also plan to continue my leadership in spreading patient and family engagement policy and practices, as well as creating an overall culture that models operational excellence. Another high priority I have for the Program is to collaborate more closely and integrate our programs in a way that is seamless to providers and our partners. We are moving away from compartmentalized approaches to quality improvement and bringing everything together, so we can test, harness and more quickly spread improvements and change.

Q. Tell us a bit about the recent changes to the Quality Improvement and Innovation Group and what they may mean for the QIO Program.

By bringing together the Partnership for Patients, the QIO Program, the ESRD Networks and the soon-to-be-launched Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative under one leadership team, we are demonstrating our intent to unify and align our agency’s quality improvement programs and initiatives. This step should both model and encourage teaming in ways that was not possible in the past. 

"We are moving away from compartmentalized approaches to quality improvement and bringing everything together, so we can test, harness and more quickly spread improvements and change."

Q. The QIO Program has entered the second year of its five-year performance period. What were some of the highlights or takeaways from year one, and what can we expect to see in the year ahead?

In the past year, we successfully accomplished a major transformation of the QIO Program – something that seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago. Foundationally, the work is still very similar, but the new structure has improved the Program in several respects. We have rejuvenated it with a fresh focus on national health quality priorities and have endowed it with the ability to be nimble and to react to routine changes in the quality improvement arena. One thing we can expect in the year ahead is that any additional changes or additions to the Program will be in alignment with national health care priorities. As new priorities evolve, our initiatives will evolve with them.

Q. BFCC-QIOs soon will be conducting Patient & Family Engagement activities. Can you shed any light on this work?

I can tell you with relative confidence that the BFCC-QIOs’ work will promote and spread the concept of patient advocacy; this was a successful endeavor for us between 2011-2014, so we will likely see the spread of that. The BFCC-QIOs likely also will focus on promoting shared decision-making and health literacy – areas that are incredibly important for providing patient-centered care.

Q. In recognition of Healthy Aging month, what is one key thing that Medicare beneficiaries can do to take responsibility for their health?

Beneficiaries should feel empowered to become active participants in co-designing their healthcare plans with their providers. This means that they should speak up about both their health care and their social goals, be clear about outcomes they desire – even if they differ from those of their provider – and co-design health care plans based on those goals.

Q. Outside of the office, what are some of your interests or hobbies that QIO News readers may not know about?

I really enjoy watching ballet. I’m also a big fan of legal drama shows like Law & Order, as well as reading John Grisham novels. Aside from my husband and son, my biggest love is my Boxer named Caine.

Q. Anything else you would like QIO News readers to know?

One of my favorite catchphrases about raising expectations is that we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.” The CMS QIO Program is now over 30 years old and recently underwent a makeover to revitalize itself. Now, in order for us to achieve more dramatic results through the Program, we have to get to a place where we’re pushing ourselves at a rate beyond what we’re traditionally comfortable doing.