Beyond the Badge, Prison Health Care

Q&A with Health Care Executive Rainbow Brockenborough

Health Care Executive Brockenborough smiles and gives a "hang 10" hand sign.
Health Care Executive Rainbow Brockenborough.

Meet Rainbow Brockenborough, Health Care Executive for CCHCS Region I, oversees nine CDCR institutions ranging from San Quentin to Pelican Bay State Prison. Originally hired as the CEO at Mule Creek State Prison in 2017, she already had 20 years experience in correctional health care outside of California. She was promoted to acting Region I Health Care Executive in 2019 and hired permanently in that position in 2020.

Leading during the COVID-19 surge

Brockenborough stepped up during the winter COVID-19 surge to co-lead the CDCR/CCHCS Department Operations Center (DOC) alongside Ron Davis, Associate Director, Reception Centers.

The DOC was established to provide statewide oversight and direction for COVID-19 efforts, including coordinating with the Institutional Command Posts (ICPs) established at each prison to prevent and respond to outbreaks.

Inside CDCR recently caught up with Brockenborough to discuss leadership during challenging times and the importance of ongoing mentorship.

Health Care Executive Brockenborough leads regional team

What do you do and why is it important to CDCR and CCHCS?

I am the Region I Healthcare Executive. I lead some of the most amazing, skilled and knowledgeable regional team members and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in the state. My region covers 10 institutions and spans from the Sacramento area north to the border. It is my job to ensure our institutions have the resources they need to provide care and treatment to our patient population. (They also need) the resources to lead team members working for them. Our regional team works diligently every day to ensure we are an extension of our institutions as well as a liaison between HW programs.

Health Care Executive Brockenborough offers words of wisdom

What is one piece of advice you have for other women in corrections that helped you throughout your career?

I have been honored to work with some of the most talented people. They have helped me grow as a leader and person. I was only 23 years old when I became a CEO. An amazing mentor told me to always give credit where it was due, even if it seemed insignificant. I remember my first accreditation survey. For nearly a year I had been the CEO.

We worked really hard to get where we needed to be to pass the accreditation. My Chief Nurse Executive was the former CEO. She was in that position for several years until she decided to move into the CNE role. We passed our accreditation and I knew how much work the team and I put in. But, I remembered what my mentor said so recognized all the work my current CNE put in as the CEO.

I presented her with a letter of commendation at a ceremony specifically to thank her for her years of leadership. When I left a few years later, both she and the Warden told me that moment changed them both as leaders. And, I knew it because I experienced the shift in leadership at the institution.

Leadership isn’t taken lightly

Being a leader is a privilege and an honor that I do not take lightly. It is my duty to serve those who are willing to follow me. It is my job to share, acknowledge, grow, support and lead in a way that is empowering and gives a voice to all. I take pride in mentoring men and women. I have seen too many people try and work their way up the ladder, breaking the backs of others. It’s unfortunate that they miss out on the greatest gift — taking those who stand with you along for the ride. I love the quote: Empowered people empower people.

Lessons learned

What is something you learned over the last two years?

I have learned that we are stronger than we think and it is OK not to be OK. Personally I have experienced some of the toughest times I have ever faced in my life. Through it, I have given myself permission to lean on others, ask for help and be a voice for those who feel vulnerable and not OK. Professionally, I have learned that we are the best of the best and nothing can keep us down.

There is one moment that seemed so insignificant at the time. It will forever be (with me) as one of the greatest in the past two years. I was a co-Incident Commander for the DOC recently. For nearly seven weeks, I sat in the DOC working as a liaison between the field and headquarters. I was fortunate to be part of conversations and decisions with HQ program directors, Office of Emergency Services and other stakeholders. Also, I was able to be a resource to the field from Wardens, CEOs and Incident Command Post team members.

I worked alongside a great partner and it truly felt like we were making a difference. We hosted DOC calls daily with stakeholders. We heard real-time from the institutions (about) challenges, concerns, successes, (and) updates. The meetings were informative on so many levels, and they were fun. We saw pictures of babies, puppies, retirement locations, upcoming vacation locations, cars/trucks/Jeeps and even what people wanted for lunch. These meetings, for one hour, brought our team together as one through laughter, information, success, and challenges.

Significance of small moments

But it was the last day of our DOC call that will remain as one of my most significant moments. In that seemingly insignificant moment, I realized how proud I am of every team member who works within our walls. I am proud to lead humans who show up every day (despite) struggles we have faced as an organization, a community, a society, a family. They show up and they fight to do what is right even when it is hard. I am honored to lead at such a time and even more honored to have learned from (them). Our greatest asset is the team we surround ourselves with. On that day, and every day, I can say with certainty: I stand alongside the best of the best.

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