Leadership Team

Mary Watanabe

Acting Director, Department of Managed Health Care

Acting Director - Mary Watanabe

Mary Watanabe is the Acting Director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, the state entity that oversees health plans that provide health care services to more than 26 million Californians. As Acting Director, Mary is responsible for protecting consumers’ health care rights and ensuring a stable health care delivery system in accordance with federal and state rules. Mary joined the department in 2015 as the Deputy Director for Health Policy and Stakeholder Relations, where she was responsible for fostering proactive and effective relations between the DMHC and its stakeholders, while serving as primary advisor to the Director on critical issues and providing strategic planning and policy direction on emerging issues and industry trends.

Prior to joining the DMHC, Mary served as Deputy Director for the Sales Division at Covered California, where she oversaw the implementation of the Navigator Grant Program, the Outreach and Education Grant Program and the engagement of community partners to educate consumers and small business owners about the health care options available through Covered California.

Prior to joining Covered California, Mary served for 12 years with the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board in the areas of contract development and monitoring, eligibility and enrollment, and benefits administration of several public health care programs, including the Healthy Families Program.  She also participated in the implementation of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a federally funded high-risk pool that offered health coverage to medically uninsurable Californians.

Mary holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University, Sacramento.

Mary Watanabe

Acting Chief Deputy Director, Department of Managed Health Care

Acting Chief Deputy Director - Mary Watanabe

In her capacity as Acting Chief Deputy Director, Mary Watanabe is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department, including developing, implementing, evaluating and approving operational and legal policies for the DMHC. Mary administers the development and implementation of regulations and enforcement of the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975. Mary represents the DMHC with the CHHS Agency, legislators and legislative staff, other State departments, top federal and local government officials, and other stakeholders. As Acting Chief Deputy Director, Mary monitors and evaluates the performance of the department’s Deputy Director’s and programs in achieving DMHC’s goals and objectives.

Rachel Arrezola

Deputy Director, Communications and Planning

Deputy Director, Communications and Planning - Rachel ArrezolaRachel Arrezola currently serves as the Deputy Director for Communications and Planning for the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), where she directs the Department’s comprehensive media and public affairs program.

Prior to her appointment to the DMHC, Rachel served as Deputy Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the California Department of Community Services and Development (CSD). In this role, she spearheaded CSD’s communications strategy for media and stakeholder outreach, legislative affairs, social media, and website design and content. While at CSD, Rachel successfully led the implementation of a Department-wide rebranding effort and website redesign.

Rachel previously worked in the Press Office for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as Chief Deputy Press Secretary. She served as the primary spokesperson for the Governor on a number of issue areas including health and human services, energy and the environment, public safety, and labor. She also held several other positions in the Governor’s Press Office including Deputy Press Secretary.

Rachel graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and concentration in Political Science. She is also a graduate of the University of California, Washington D.C. program.

Sonia Fernandes

Deputy Director, Office of Enforcement

Deputy Director, Office of Enforcement - Sonia FernandesSonia Fernandes is the Deputy Director and Chief Counsel for the Office of Enforcement where she is responsible for planning, organizing, managing and directing the statewide litigation activities of the Enforcement Program. She provides enforcement-related information on department and statewide policy issues and strategic planning, and is responsible for policy development, implementation, and evaluation of the overall operations of the program.

Sonia has been with the DMHC since 2007, most recently serving as an Assistant Chief Counsel in the Office of Plan Monitoring. She has also held attorney positions in the Office of Plan Licensing and Office of Enforcement. Prior to joining the DMHC, Sonia represented children in the foster care system through a local non-profit organization.

Sonia holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice Administration from San Jose State University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. In 2010, she was awarded the Jack Berman Award of Achievement by the California Young Lawyers Association for distinguished service to the public and legal profession.

Ralph Cesena Jr.

Deputy Director and Chief Information Officer, Office of Technology & Innovation

Deputy Director, Office of Technology & Innovation and Chief Information Officer, Ralph Cesena Jr.Ralph Cesena Jr. is the Deputy Director and Chief Information Officer at the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC).  He is responsible for guiding enterprise IT Strategy to ensure alignment with the Department’s strategic plan and ensuring that a modern and flexible architecture will be in place to meet the current and future needs of DMHC.

Prior to joining DMHC, Ralph worked as an Application Development Manager where he led several key initiatives including establishment of an IT Service Management discipline and the introduction of new digital-transformation technologies. 

Ralph’s previous experience also includes managing a portfolio of projects for various California state agencies. This included the implementation of a Welfare Benefits Interactive voice response (IVR) system for CalWIN, multiple data warehousing and business intelligence projects for the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, a HIPAA NPI Remediation project and Electronic Health Record/Health Information Exchange analysis for the Department of Mental Health and a platform modernization assessment for California First 5 Commission, amongst others.

Ralph was also co-founder of a startup that focused on utilizing digital solutions to increase efficiencies in the auto repair industry and is one of several inventors named on the company’s US technology patent.

During his career, Ralph has also served as Director of Product Management, Director of Software Development, Senior Project Coordinator and as a software developer.

Ralph graduated from San Joaquin Delta College with a degree in Business Administration, and earned a second AA in Computer Science.  He completed his Project Management Capstone certification with Villanova University.

Pritika Dutt

Deputy Director, Office of Financial Review

Deputy Director, Office of Financial Review - Pritika DuttPritika Dutt is the Deputy Director of the Office of Financial Review. In this capacity, she oversees the office that ensures all California managed care health plans and their contracted risk-bearing organizations are in compliance with financial solvency requirements and standards. Her office is also responsible for identifying trends that may affect the continued financial viability of commercial, governmental and specialized health plans. She also advises the Director and Chief Deputy Director on financial solvency issues and their impact on California’s health care delivery system.

Formerly, Pritika served as a supervisor in the Office of Financial Review’s Division of Financial Oversight, where she was in charge of monitoring the financial solvency of all governmental and specialized health plans regulated by the Knox-Keene Act.

Prior to that, she worked in the Provider Solvency and Support Unit as an Examiner monitoring the financial solvency of risk-bearing organizations. Pritika joined the Department in 2003 as an auditor and has extensive experience assessing the financial and claims compliance of health plans and risk-bearing organizations through examinations and review of periodic financial statements and compliance reports.

Pritika received her bachelor’s degree in Accounting from California State University, Sacramento and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Nichole Eshelman

Deputy Director, Office of Administrative Services

Deputy Director, Office of Administrative Services - Nichole Eshelman

Nichole Eshelman is the Deputy Director for the Office of Administrative Services and is responsible for human resources, labor relations, training, accounting, budgets, facilities management, business services, contracts, procurement, business continuity planning, strategic planning and the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program. Nichole has over 14 years of experience in all facets of administrative work within state service.

Nichole joined the DMHC in May of 2020, as the Chief for the Workforce Support Division, which includes the Human Resources, Training, Organizational Effectiveness, EEO, Safety, and Wellness Offices. Prior to joining the DMHC, Nichole worked for the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) where she was responsible for overseeing the operational activities at the San Diego Member Service Center and other satellite offices throughout the San Diego and Imperial regions. Prior to joining CalSTRS, Nichole spent several years working for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) where she was responsible for a wide range of administrative and staff services functions.

Nichole is passionate about the DMHC’s mission and brings a wealth of knowledge to her role, including experience in all areas of administrative services. In August 2018, Nichole was recognized by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) and received the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification for making significant process improvements and achieving efficiencies in the CDFW’s process for soliciting, reviewing, and ranking proposals for Federal State Wildlife Grant funds. The project’s success was featured in an August 2018 Governor’s Press Release.

Nichole holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University, San Diego.

Elizabeth Landsberg

Deputy Director, Help Center

Deputy Director, Help Center - Elizabeth LandsbergElizabeth Landsberg is the Deputy Director of the Help Center which assists consumers with health care issues and works to ensure that health plans are accountable to enrollees for providing timely access to required health care services and appropriately addressing enrollee complaints.

Before joining the Department, Elizabeth was an advocate for health care consumers for more than sixteen years. She was the Director of Policy Advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty where she specialized in health care issues including health reform implementation, Medi-Cal, Covered California and other issues affecting poor Californians. Prior to joining Western Center, Elizabeth was the Supervising Attorney for the Health Rights Hotline at Legal Services of Northern California. In addition to supervising the Hotline staff fielding calls from health care consumers, Elizabeth analyzed call data, identified systemic policy issues and advocated for needed change. She was the Ruth Chance Law Fellow at Equal Rights Advocates and served as a law clerk to Federal District Court Judge Martha Vázquez.

Elizabeth received her law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley Women’s Law Journal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in History from Pomona College.

Sarah Ream

Acting General Counsel, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Legal Services

Acting General Counsel - Sarah ReamSarah Ream joined the DMHC in 2007 and prior to becoming the Acting General Counsel, served as the Deputy Director for the Office of Plan Licensing. Under the direction of the Director, as the Acting General Counsel, Sarah provides advice on legal and administrative matters to the Director, Chief Deputy Director and Deputy Directors; functions as legal liaison between the DMHC and the Governor’s Office, the California Health and Human Services Agency, industry associations, and health plan and provider group legal affairs offices; ensures department-wide consistency in legal approaches and determinations; provides strategic planning and policy direction on emerging legal issues and industry trends to ensure optimum health care service delivery; and works cooperatively with other executives to promote and uphold the Department’s mission. Sarah also provides oversight of the work in the Office of Legal Services which provides legal, legislative, and policy analysis and advice to all programs of the DMHC, and develops necessary and appropriate regulations to administer the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975. Our objective is to set standards of consistency, efficiency, and transparency for the managed health care marketplace.

Prior to joining the DMHC, Sarah worked with the Washington State House of Representatives as a non-partisan legislative counsel. Sarah holds both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Davis and the California State University, Fullerton respectively, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.


Deputy Director, Legislative Affairs


Deputy Director, Office of Plan Licensing

Dan Southard

Deputy Director, Office of Plan Monitoring

Deputy Director - Dan Southard Dan Southard is the Deputy Director for the Office of Plan Monitoring where he is responsible for evaluating and promoting health plan regulatory compliance related to quality improvement, utilization management and member grievances and ensuring health plan networks have the right types of providers necessary to deliver health care services that meet time and geographic access requirements.

Prior to his appointment, Dan served in a variety of roles at the DMHC including his most recent position as the Acting Assistant Deputy Director at the Help Center. In this capacity, he led the Help Center through a large-scale re-organization to increase program efficiency. Since joining the department, he has demonstrated an unwavering focus on California’s health care consumers, strong leadership skills and deep familiarity with the statutory and regulatory framework under which the DMHC operates.

On his personal time, Dan developed and patented a medical device to prevent the formation and decrease the healing time of pressure ulcers.


Deputy Director, Health Policy and Stakeholder Relations