Staff Spotlight: Julie Plante

Staff Spotlight: Julie Plante

Julie Plante grew up rooting for the underdog. A registered nurse and Vail Care’s Nurse Manager for Integrated Care, Julie has had a passion for social justice work since she was in her early teens.  Diagnosed with mental illness at the age of nine, Julie suffered a lot throughout her youth, including several hospitalizations. However, a severe mental health crisis during college cemented her determination to dedicate her life and work to helping fight the inequities and prejudices faced by people with mental illnesses and disabilities – both within the mental health system and outside of it.

Today, Julie’s work has been key to the development and continuous improvement of the Vail Care program, a Medicaid-certified behavioral health home services program. Vail Care includes health and wellness promotion, case management, enrollee and family support, care management, and referrals for community-based services. It is part of a national health program that facilitates access to and coordination of care for Medicaid beneficiaries, many of whom have multiple chronic illnesses.

“When I came to Vail Place eight years ago I knew that nurses could make a much bigger impact on the lives of people as a whole, not just their physical health,” Julie says. “Within Vail Care and case management nurses are able to bring all their skills to the table as part of the care team. The more we educate people and provide them with the tools they need, the better advocates they are for their own health. As a result they become stronger, healthier, and just lead better lives.” Julie adds that most people aren’t aware that adults with mental illnesses live 25 years less than the average population due to physical conditions like heart disease and diabetes.  She says that “We’re addressing the need for people to receive better whole health care, not just when they’re in crisis.” Julie’s work through Vail Care has been instrumental in the success of Vail Place’s tobacco free program, programs that help educate members about diabetes as well as other conditions that can often be better self-managed.  “Through meetings with nurses, people are learning how to track their diabetes, and set smaller goals around understanding their condition,” Julie says. “Once people understand what’s really happening with their bodies, they get much more motivated to learn and make those necessary lifestyle changes.”

Although she’s been involved in community service her entire life, becoming a registered nurse wasn’t always in Julie’s view for her future. She began her career working in mental health case management for a large agency in the Twin Cities. After about 12 years, a friend suggested she considered returning to school for a nursing degree. Feeling that she might be able to make a better impact from within the healthcare system, Julie attained her nursing degree and became an RN. “Working as a nurse within the system actually propelled me even further to try to change things within the community itself. I realized healthcare systems were just too big to be effective, and what I wanted to offer wouldn’t thrive in that environment.”

And so eight years ago, Julie came to Vail Place. “I felt that Vail Place offered an opportunity to move in a new direction, and try to effect change more creatively, with less regulation,” Julie says. “I wanted the chance to reach more people and help them empower themselves. We’re really making those impacts not only with Vail Care but many of the other programs at Vail Place as well. It’s exciting to see the progress people are making. Our agency is unique in letting nurses assess the full array of what’s going on with a person whether it’s mental or physical. We are now bringing so much more to the table and providing true wraparound support without costing additional dollars.”

Julie’s creative abilities have been an asset to her career, helping her to envision new ways of providing service, and solve problems innovatively. That creativity stems in part from her initial career dreams of becoming a concert pianist. However, a panic disorder forced Julie to drop out of her aspirations to perform, but she still considers herself a musician at heart. Today she’s reinvented herself as a singer, and has three albums out with her band Autumn. Julie finds writing and recording music to be both fulfilling and therapeutic, and is performing live once again.

She’s also really passionate about traveling, spending time with family and well….just laughing.  “Being in nature, traveling and being with family are my big three,” she says.

Although it’s obvious Julie’s life is balanced with personal and professional goals, it’s clear she is passionate about improving the lives of the people she serves every day through her work with Vail Care. “For me, my mental illness is a part of me, but we are all so much more than our mental health diagnosis,” she says. “My personal experiences have been highly influential in the work that I do and my sense of purpose. We’ve come a long way, but there is much left to be done.”