During her second year in law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, Rhonda Mundhenk said she realized she did not want to use her degree to work in a law firm environment.
After graduating she got a job at a small hospital on the southwest side of Chicago. After that she held several other health care administrative positions and earned her master’s degree in public health.
Mundhenk later served as the interim CEO for a Federally Qualified Health Center at the University of Illinois, which eventually led her to Texas where in 2012 she joined Lone Star Circle of Care, the Georgetown-based FQHC treating uninsured and underinsured Central Texans.
Mundhenk was chosen to serve as LSCC CEO in 2014. At the time the nonprofit health provider was in the midst of a massive restructuring effort to stay solvent amid funding shortfalls resulting from failed strategic gambles.
How did you get into health care administration?
I happened to stumble into health care as a first job. It was a research project at the University of Illinois, and it was working with incredibly marginalized and vulnerable populations on the south and west sides of Chicago in the late ’90s in the height of the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the city of Chicago in African-American communities.
I think in a very real way… it helped me understand that access to health care and access to medications really can be a matter of life and death for really young people in these communities.
What brought you to Lone Star Circle of Care?
I got to meet the administration at the time, and I was completely taken by what LSCC was trying to do and accomplish.
Everything that was interesting about Lone Star and what got me here was the health care reform initiatives that it was pursuing. I felt like this was a moment in health care that I didn’t want to pass me by.
They sent me an offer, I accepted, and I think less than two months later I was moving down here.
I’ve always been a believer in you can’t necessarily create the opportunities, but you can be ready for them when they come and you shouldn’t be afraid even if you never considered doing something. I think the fun parts of life are not knowing and going on the adventure.
What made you take the leap and become the interim CEO during that time?
I had had enough experience with Federally Qualified Health Centers, so I had the opportunity to see a lot of financial models of community health centers. And what I was confident about this community health center is that it had the size, the geographic reach and it had enough volume that I believed the core model was incredibly sound. … But it had just had a huge layer of frosting laid over it that was very expensive frosting. So I felt like from a business standpoint if you could remove the frosting that the core model would perform.
The question then became can the organization withstand the hits that it was going to need to [endure] in terms of the restructuring, [such as] the reductions in force, the consolidation of space and the just general upheaval that comes with uncertainty. Fortunately, I had had two years here and I knew the people who worked for Lone Star Circle of Care, and I believed that they believed that this organization needed to exist and had a meaningful mission.
I believed enough of them would stay with the organization that we would withstand the hit.
The third thing … at that time and still, tens of thousands of people who rely on this organization for their health care wouldn’t have anywhere to go. There was no clear indication of any other organization that could step in and assume the mission.
I didn’t have any way of knowing that we would be successful, but I knew that if nobody was willing to step forward that there was no chance. Knowing that, I just decided it’s worth fighting for, and it’s worth trying.
Why is having LSCC in the community important?
As it stands in the U.S. health care system at this time [the only place] where somebody without health insurance can receive care is a Federally Qualified Health Center or an emergency department.
[It’s] not the emergency department’s job to ensure that a patient is healthy. That leaves Federally Qualified Health Centers as the only place that folks without insurance can go and receive care. I think one of the great misnomers is that if you don’t have insurance then you don’t have a job, but the reality is there are—especially depending on the way the economy is structured—any number of folks [without insurance], particularly if an economy is small-business-driven.
Health care is incredibly expensive … especially for catastrophic care or hospital care. It’s not something at the end of the day that the average American can afford. In a broad sense I think that’s why FQHCs are an important component of any community and any health care system.