Kristen Rantanen (far right) is pictured above with our production team on location for 2017 Strictly Business Inspiration Award winner Steven Morales’ (second from right) award video.
In our Executive Q&A series, we talk with chief leaders across JEVS Human Services about programs, services and initiatives that are “making hope happen” for our clients and those in need throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. This month, we spoke with Kristen Rantanen, senior vice president of communications and public affairs, about her role as chief storyteller, how her job has changed over the years, the importance of advocacy work, and why changes to the Medicaid program are a concern for JEVS Human Services.
Q: What gets you excited about your job?
A. There are a lot of things about my job that get me out of bed in the morning, but I love my role as chief storyteller. What gets me most excited is telling a powerful story about our work, the people we support, and how we make hope happen. Those are the things that help the community to connect to JEVS Human Services. This is true for individuals seeking our help, donors looking to invest philanthropic dollars, and policymakers who want to understand what really works. On a personal note, I’ve always felt that it is a special privilege to help those we serve to find their own voice and tell their own story.
Q: You oversee marketing communications, public relations, branding and more. How has your job changed over the years?
A. Technology is by far the biggest change I’ve seen. There are many more ways (or channels, if you like marketing speak) to reach our audience. At the same time, our audience has a lot more “noise” they have to sift through to hear us—plus communication is 24/7, especially on social media! We have to be a lot more sophisticated in our approach, think about analytics, content development, and audience engagement in new ways, every day. At the same time, it’s a challenge to stay ahead of marketing innovation. We’ve grown our tool box exponentially to support promotion and visibility of our many programs across the agency, and there is always more to do. But, at the end of the day, we have to tell a compelling story. That hasn’t changed.
Q: Let’s talk about your advocacy and public policy work at JEVS.
A. I think broadly about advocacy at JEVS. It’s not only about what you might call “issues advocacy”—walking the halls in the state capitol or in Congress—although we do that on issues impacting our mission and those we serve. Those tactics are important, but it’s also critical that we are strategic in extending our reach, sharing our impact (and stories), and talking about what we know works to help people develop resilience and live lives with independence and dignity. It is also not the job of one person. Our Board, our employees and clients have an important role in this work.
Q: Speaking of advocacy, over the past year, there has been concern about cuts or changes to the Medicaid program at both the federal and state level. Why are changes to this program a concern for JEVS?
A. There is a perception that Medicaid is simply health insurance for the poor and unemployed. The truth is that in the United States it is the largest payer of long-term care services for seniors and people with disabilities and covers the cost of more than a quarter of all behavioral health services. At JEVS, there are more than 5,400 people served in our Medicaid-funded programs. This includes patients at our addiction treatment clinics, residents with developmental disabilities and chronic mental illness, and individuals with physical disabilities receiving the in-home services they need to stay independent. No doubt there are improvements to be made to the Medicaid system, but fundamental changes to how the program is funded will destabilize an essential system of care for the most vulnerable in our community.