Kaitlyn Neises-Mocanu

40 Under 40 Class of 2019

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

Special Assistant for Policy, Sustainability, and Development

Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation
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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is surrounded by ocean, and it feels like we’re often one swell away from literally and figuratively drowning; the small island economy teeters on a razor’s edge between feast and famine. But what was once a strange and seemingly hopeless place to me, has become my home and mission.

BOLD SOLUTION: In 2017, Kaitlyn spearheaded opening a pharmacy on the remote island of Saipan with no prior pharmacy training. The goals were to improve access to medication for those with low incomes, and improve health outcomes, with revenue generation a tertiary aim. She was able to convene a team of internal stakeholders from public health, clinical, inpatient pharmacy, IT, accounting, billing, legal, and facilities to open the pharmacy eight months later. Six months after the pharmacy opened, it had filled discounted prescriptions for more than 300 low-income residents; improved the efficiency and reach of the family planning, HIV/STD, and TB programs; scored highly on customer satisfaction scores; reduced inpatient re-admissions at the hospital; and reached net positive revenue generation. The team is now working on expanding access to outpatient pharmacy services using telepharmacy to the smaller islands of Tinian and Rota.

Five Questions for Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn and two of her colleagues conduct a healthy food demonstration for post-disaster conditions in response to Typhoon Soudelor.

1. Who or what inspired you to enter the field of public health?

Realizing that health equity opens the door to equity and well-being in other respects inspired me to enter the field. There are many problems in my community, but one problem I think we can address is using what resources we do have to improve our health. Traditional, whole foods have not been totally forgotten, we have farmers dedicated to improving the food security of the islands, and we have a beautiful environment for physical activity. Improving the health of our community is a key factor to increasing independence and self-sufficiency of the Marianas Islands.

2. What would success in public health look like to you?

I see success in public health when we’ve empowered communities to advocate for their health and realize self-efficacy.

3. What’s a story or experience that keeps you going, even when you’re feeling challenged?

The stories that keep me going are those that I make up in my head about the people my work may affect. It’s difficult to keep going when you don’t make a large, visible impact with an intervention or campaign, or when participation is very low, but remembering that even the smallest of interventions can make one person’s life better or even change the course of it entirely is enough to continue. I often think about the girls and young women whose lives could be improved if they wouldn’t need to care for a parent or grandparent until the family member is much older. It’s not uncommon for parents or grandparents to become ill and disabled from chronic disease in their 50s or even 40s.

4. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A zookeeper. I’ve always loved animals.

5. What are the greatest challenges you face in your public health work or area of focus?

The greatest challenges we face are priorities that compete with health, faced by both our government and our community. Prioritizing healthy choices and creating healthy environments is difficult in the face of poverty and limited government resources.