For UnitedHealthcare’s Joe Ochipinti, ‘Servant Leadership’ and Innovation Point the Way to Better Health

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At 2 pounds, 7 ounces with a beating heart the size of a grape, his tiny body was slight enough to rest in the palm of your hand.

That’s how small Joe Ochipinti’s son was when he was born premature at 32 weeks. 

“He was supposed to be delivered in October,” Joe said. “When we got a call that he was coming in early August, all of our emotions were running back-and-forth.”

Today, Alec is thriving, but that outcome did not always seem certain.

“My wife was there at the intensive care unit for about seven weeks. The big date was when he got to 4 pounds, 5 ounces and we could leave the hospital,” Joe said. “He looked so small in that car seat.”

That experience not only shaped his family but how he approaches his work as the new CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s Employer & Individual health plan in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In this role, Joe is responsible for commercial business serving 2.8 million members in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Joe says his personal experience during the early days of Alec’s life informs his work as much as his nearly two decades of professional experience in health care.

“I view the members we serve as individuals and families in need of the compassion my family received, and I’m able to put myself in their shoes,” he said. “As CEO, I have a responsibility to ensure they have the best experience possible.”

‘Our cultural values are embedded in everything we do’

As Joe stood outside his office in Columbia, Maryland, he listened to one of his new colleagues as they wrapped up a meeting.

“One of the internal commitments that I've made is to meet one-on-one with each employee in my first 120 days,” Joe said. “We have a large team here in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s critical that we build those relationships early.”

Joe began his career at UnitedHealthcare more than 16 years ago. Before taking responsibility for the Mid-Atlantic, he was based in New Orleans as a CEO for UnitedHealthcare in the Gulf States. Deep executive experience in finance and health care give Joe a unique perspective on the too-often complicated health system.

“We are a culturally-driven organization and our success is a product of that. I believe in empowering my team to deliver healthcare locally,” he said. “We have tremendous assets at UnitedHealth Group, our partners at Optum and the innovations we provide at UnitedHealthcare, and we want to use them to streamline the healthcare experience.”

As Joe looks to the future for UnitedHealthcare in the Mid-Atlantic, he sees opportunities to deepen relationships with providers through partnerships focused on delivering the highest quality experience for consumers.

“One of our big opportunities is to continue to advance value-based care and the conversation around total cost of care,” Joe said. “I'm meeting with health systems and providers in the Mid-Atlantic to build on those relationships and ask ‘what can our organizations do to better serve the community.' This approach has been well-received by our provider partners.”

Value-based care focuses on making positive improvements in people’s health behaviors, better coordination of care among physicians and facilities, plus cost savings with care providers who have implemented value-based arrangements.

“We have the ability to engage with a health system and understand their needs,” Joe said. “We sit down with them to assess their needs around value-based care and total cost of care. Then we lay out a path to achieve their goals. It’s about making sure members get the right care in the right place at the right time.”

‘Staying true to our mission drives performance’

As he’s settling into his new role as CEO of UnitedHealthcare Mid-Atlantic, some areas of focus include innovations that empower members to take control of their health, in addition to new programs and partnerships that emphasize positive health outcomes and the total cost of a person’s care.

“One example is UnitedHealthcare Motion®. It’s all about helping people get active and stay active using wearables,” Joe said. “We’re meeting our members where they are by integrating this digital technology into a platform people are already eager to use.”

As technology and innovation continue to transform health care, Joe tries to stay grounded by being mission-oriented and staying true to core values.

“For me it’s clarifying to have bedrock principles to help guide you,” Joe said. “Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and help make the health system work better for everyone. If you focus on the mission, success in terms of delivering a seamless experience for our members, clients, and partners will follow.”

‘What matters most’

“Just focus on the ball and follow all the way through. You’ve got this,” Joe said, with a well-worn La Salle University alumni hat perched on his head and a proud grin on his face.

On many Saturday and Sunday mornings, you’ll find him coaching his son Alec’s travel baseball team or cheering for his daughter Kate on the tennis court. He and his family have settled in nicely to their new home – one that’s quite familiar to Joe.

“We could live without the Beltway traffic,” Joe quipped about his family’s transition from New Orleans. “Joking aside, I am no stranger to the region. I grew up in south Jersey. My parents live less than two hours from where we’re sitting.”

Having family nearby has really driven home what’s important in life, especially as his children continue to grow and flourish. Joe and his wife, like many parents, wonder where the time went. It feels like just yesterday they were at the hospital, eager to bring their son home.

“When Alec was born premature, what I saw was compassion and focus from the caregivers,” Joe said. “At the end of the day, it’s the kind of personal experience that connects the dots between what matters most — family — and the idea that with the right mission we can help make a positive impact for people we serve.”