Kentucky UnitedHealthcare COO Finds Strength Through Daughter’s Memory

Finding the right work-life balance is a struggle for many. For Paul Brophy, UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky’s chief operations officer, his search for balance came at a difficult period in his life while caring for his daughter, Elana, during her two-year battle with cancer.

Trying to provide a normal childhood to Elana while maintaining a relentless focus on achieving her daily goals revealed profound truths to Paul on how to handle change. It also inspired him to write a book on the experience titled, “Zero to Sixty in Nine Years.”

Paul Brophy Paul Brophy

Each chapter reveals how Elana’s inner strength allowed her to overcome tremendous pain and fear while enjoying her childhood activities with her family and friends. Sadly, at just 9 years old, Elana’s battle with cancer came to an end.

For Paul, writing the book was a therapeutic journey that provided him with lessons on how to deal and cope with unforeseen circumstances. It also allowed him to share his journey with others on how to make a positive impact at home and at work when confronted with unexpected challenges.

Paul recently answered a few questions on how he is using the inspiration of Elana, more than a decade after her death, in his professional life.

Who is or has been your biggest influence in life or work life?

Easy answer. My family. Starting with my parents and grandparents who instilled a strong work ethic. My wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and the rest of my family and friends influence me every day.  My daughter Elana also influences me each day and evening as I reflect on how she impacted our family and those around her during her nine years. Her memory will always impact our lives.

My wife Amy and I started a foundation in Elana’s name several years ago. The Elana Brophy Memorial Foundation is a 501c3 trust and our major benefactor is Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. We make annual contributions to Children’s and so far we have exceeded $150,000 in total contributions made through the foundation.

This September marks 15 years with UnitedHealthcare. What roles have you had with the company?

Previously, I was the executive director for both southwest Ohio and Kentucky health plans before moving into my current role as the Chief Operations Officer for the Kentucky health plan.

How have you seen UnitedHealthcare evolve over the years? What role does “culture” play?

I have seen significant change at UnitedHealthcare during my tenure in both Ohio and Kentucky. Our commitment to an improved culture has been a game changer. Both internal and external relationships have improved as a result on of our focus on culture.

We're committed to helping people live healthier lives and to making the health system work better for everyone. We believe this requires not only great capabilities, expertise and people who are passionate about making a difference, but also a culture that helps us build relationships and do our best work for those we serve. Our culture is built on the foundation of our values, and it is the compass that keeps us advancing in the right direction and doing things the right way.

What are some of the biggest opportunities in Kentucky?

Historically, the health care system has operated in a traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model that pays care providers based on the quantity of services they deliver. Over the last several years, the focus has shifted to reimbursement models that pay care providers based on the quality of care they deliver and patients’ actual health outcomes.

That will continue as value-based care is rooted in the idea of advancing the triple aim: providing better care to individuals, improving the patient experience, and reducing health care costs. We will continue to evolve our relationships with our health care providers in Kentucky to improve both cost and health outcomes.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

Kentucky is a very competitive market. We are challenged to be creative with our product mix, funding arrangements and wellness initiatives. However, we have the talent, experience and tools to deliver high quality, affordable health care to the people we are privileged to serve.

Maturing relationships between payers and providers are translating into success for care providers and patients alike. These are the early stages of a huge shift in mindset in the medical community, but it’s already clear that the more we establish better relationships with our care providers, the more we can help transform Kentucky’s health and the state’s health care system.

What are you passionate about in your current position?

I’m passionate about creating and working within a team environment that expects and encourages open and direct communication. Our team achieves and celebrates success together, both in our results and our commitment to our enterprise and the communities where we work and live.

Any recent big career achievements?

Yes. Working collaboratively with our local team to achieve strong Vital Signs results year-over-year has been rewarding. Additionally, the company receiving external recognition as one of the “Best Places to Work” is a testament to our culture and team effectiveness.