The Problem-Solver: Kiah Calmese Walker

By Hywania Thompson | Photography by Hillary Schave

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Dane County, Kiah Calmese Walker didn’t miss a beat making sure hospital staff had the supplies they needed.

“Personal protective equipment, [air filtration systems], masks and supplies were a major concern at the beginning of our COVID response, but she wasn’t rattled,” says colleague Leah Huibregtse. “She led with both urgency and coolness.”

Originally from California, Calmese Walker is the director of supply chain services at UnityPoint Health-Meriter and materials management for UW Health at the American Center. Essentially, she ensures staff have what they need to provide patients with quality care.

Within her role as a leader in healthcare, one of her overarching goals is diversifying the industry with more BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and People of Color — leaders and clinical workers. Support services roles, like supply chain, are a great front door into other healthcare careers, she says. She mentors her staff, helps with their resume, introduces them to people in other departments and recommends them for jobs. One of her employees started in food service and is now a facilities manager, where he has a direct impact on patient care.

In doing this work, an underlying question she constantly asks herself is: “How do you show people that their perceived weaknesses, barriers and insufficiencies are actually strategic opportunities to help move forward the very thing that we all claim to need and want at the end of the day? Which is to help one another have better health outcomes, better community outcomes and better unity within our communities.”

Outside of work, Calmese Walker serves on a few boards of directors, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County (BBBS). There too, she aims to bolster diversity by bringing more women of color into the organization, so more “Littles” are matched with “Bigs” that look like them.

Coming into 2021, her family is a big focus as well.

“I’ve spent the past five to seven years building professionally. I want these next five years to be focused on continuing to take care of my family,” she says. “[My husband, Brett], is one of the most amazing, supportive men who walks the talk; believes in empowering women; understands, protects and upholds my life example and knows that it’s a direct investment into our daughter’s life.”

Alongside Brett, Calmese Walker plans to create opportunities for their 10-year-old daughter to “cultivate a constructive body image,” as well as coach and support their 16-year-old son as he prepares for his future and finishes the last two years of high school.

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