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Tribune Profile: Ann Lewandowski: She works on health initiatives

Time:2019-01-09 10:28wine - Red wine life health Click:

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Ann Lewandowski, with her two brothers, started life in the far northern reaches of California in the rural town of Eureka and the gateway to the Redwood National Forest. Once a prosperous logging and fishing community, Eureka fell on hard times. Lewandowski’s first job after college was as a real estate agent in her hometown. A promising career of selling homes turned into filing foreclosures for Wells Fargo Bank.

“I lasted for four months,” Lewandowski said.

Although both her parents were in health care, Lewandowski was not interested in the field at all when she was looking into her future. Lewandowski graduated from UC-Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric. She describes her degree as the study in the art of persuasion and the evolution of scientific thought.

Lewandowski’s father was very active in the local Rotary Club, and the family hosted many students during Lewandowski’s younger years. When Lewandowski was 16 years old, she applied for and received a scholarship for the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.

CBYX is an exchange program through the U.S. State Department for high school students who want to immerse themselves in the German culture. Lewandowski spent one month with a host family for language training and moved in with another host family for the next 11 months living and attending school in the central German village of Ruehne, population 1,500. Her experience was not altogether positive until she moved in with a third family, whom she described as amazing, for the last three months of her stay. Lewandowski had the opportunity to travel around Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

All the high school students chosen for CBYX met for one week in Washington D.C. Here she met Peter Lewandowski, and the two students spent time together until they went their separate ways in Germany. Through Facebook, Peter reconnected during college, she at Berkley and he at UW-Madison. Peter asked her to move to Wisconsin and with a resounding “no” not this California girl, the couple carried on an eight-month, long distance relationship. Peter accepted a job in San Francisco, and three years later ,they were married in California.

Not envisioning a career in health care, Lewandowski was now working for Public Health collaborating with others in the influenza and preparedness division for the San Francisco area.

“We were part of the national strategy planning for a novel influenza virus, which is highly pathogenic with a high mortality rate,” Lewandowski explained. During her tenure with public health, the H1N1 virus was identified through routine surveillance in California. The pandemic was officially declared over by World Health Organization in 2010. With the activity of the H1N1 virus over so went the funding. Lewandowski’s contract was not to be renewed at the end of August of that year.

With wedding and honeymoon plans set in motion for Aug. 7, her wedding vows were said with an uncertain career future. The couple went ahead with their two-week honeymoon trip to Australia without regret.

“It was our first big, no family trip, and it was amazing,” Lewandowski said.

Lewandowski did find another job in utilization management, which evaluates and authorizes health care requests. Referring to her previous job in foreclosures, Lewandowski describes her role in utilization management as “another soul-crushing job.”

“In one year, I had 785 refraction (eyeglass prescriptions) denials. MRI’s were another big denial claim. I learned a lot about insurance and learned to advocate for patients and educate doctors,” Lewandowski said.

After two years, Stanford University purchased the company and Lewandowski began the integration of training Stanford employees.

The unlikely decision to actually move to Wisconsin came out of necessity. At the age of 24, Lewandowski was given the game changing diagnosis of multiple sclerosis ,and the couple realized that the cost of living was out of control in the Bay area, especially with a health issue to consider.

In 2012 they made the move. Neither having employment, the couple moved in with Peter’s parents.

“It was terrifying, and it took a while to find jobs,” Lewandowski said.

Peter accepted a role as Director of Port with the Vincent de Paul Society and for the past five years Lewandowski has held the title of the Southern Wisconsin Immunization Consortium coordinator working out of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative or RWHC. Its mission is to improve childhood immunization rates in the seven counties that border Dane County, which includes Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Sauk and Columbia counties.

“There is a much lower rate of immunization between rural and urban areas. Our goal is to close that gap. It’s extraordinarily complicated. It’s very challenging because of the way things are paid for to maximize delivery in a scarce resource environment and how funding to public health has changed,” Lewandowski explained. “My job is to look at those issues and come up with solutions, which is the hardest part of my job. I work in a collaborative environment and everyone is doing amazing work.”

Lewandowski urges parents not to rely on Google for their immunization information. Speaking to their own physician is the safest bet.

“Europe is having a huge measles outbreak due to the drop in immunization compliance,” Lewandowski said. The risk of not immunizing is too high.

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