By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Northwest Asian Weekly Top Contributor honoree Lori Wada has been on the Board of Directors of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) since April 2014.
For the 25-year veteran in the state government, it’s all about healthcare education. Wada currently serves as an Operations Supervisor at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, which offers counseling and education on healthcare options to low-income families across the state.
A native of Seoul, Korea, Wada moved to the United States at age 18. She graduated from St. Martins University and began her civic career at the Washington Lottery Commission in 1990.
“I started at the Lottery Commission as an Asian liaison,” she said. “My job was a new position they created. They were having a language and cultural competency issue amongst the staff in serving small businesses and there were 700 Korean convenience stores at the time.”
In order to sell lottery tickets in convenience stores, many compliance laws, restrictions, and requirements must be followed. A lot of convenience store owners didn’t understand.
“They created this position to narrow the gap,” Wada said. “I was going between the Lottery Commission and convenience store owners to understand what were the requirements on both sides and the interests of the convenience store owners and making sure they were equally and fairly treated.”
In Wada’s time at the Lottery Commission, the sale of lottery products went up 400 percent, she said.
“We had close business partnerships with the store owners,” she said. “That was a big accomplishment for me.”
After leaving the Lottery Commission, Wada went to work at the Department of Commerce as a Position Contract Manager for the Housing Trust Fund, working to find homes for low income, seniors and special needs populations.
There, Wada worked with many nonprofit organizations including the Korean Women’s Association.
“I was able to help them obtain state funding to develop housing for seniors and domestic violence shelters,” she said.
After ten years at the Department of Commerce, in 2010, Wada became involved with healthcare for underserved populations at her current position at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
“I have done a lot of outreach for API communities to educate people about Medicare coverage options and enrollment information,” she said. “Medicare is a very complex program. Because it is administered by the federal government, there’s a cost associated but there’s a program for low-income populations that not many people are aware of.”
This is where Wada comes in, reaching out to the community to teach them about their options. She hopes to continue her work with healthcare education in her new role at CAPAA.
“I’m facing retirement pretty soon,” she said. “I felt that I could get involved actively at CAPPAA. I want to be more involved at the policy level.”
“I really want to focus on giving more effort to more healthcare fields,” she said of her goals in her new position. “The healthcare illiteracy is really high across the board but in the API community, it’s even higher. A lot of people are not taking advantage of the programs. I want to give more of my hours and time and effort to help people to navigate the system so they can find the program that works for their situation.”
As far as how Wada became a Top Contributor, she was nominated by Buwon Brown, Executive Director of the Korean Community Service Center.
“I really think there’s other people in the community to recognize,” Wada said. “The person whom I think nominated me said ‘nobody came to the API community to teach them about how Medicaid works.’ I was the first one that actually went out and gathered people about this program. They were very touched by it I guess. I think that’s why I was nominated.”
When asked what she thinks makes a Top Contributor, she said “I think somebody who really sacrificed themselves or somebody who really achieved a significant accomplishment for the API community [should] be recognized.”
It looks like Wada fits her own description. (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.