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As a physician in Peru, Teresa Barrera-Anderson, MD, received commendations from the country’s health minister for helping coordinate a national effort to vaccinate the people of a native Amazon community in the wake of a 1998 rabies epidemic.
Just three years later, she found herself facing an unexpected challenge for an accomplished physician: being turned away from a Minneapolis clinic because her English was not strong enough to understand providers, and the clinic had no Spanish interpreters.
Barrera-Anderson had come to Minneapolis on a three-month trip to visit a friend and take an English course, but it turned into an extended stay when she met her future husband. Ultimately, it led her to the unsuccessful clinic appointment — and a turning point in her career.
“This experience helped strengthen my determination to become a doctor in the United States and focus my efforts on behalf of the Spanish-speaking community and other minority communities,” says Barrera-Anderson, a 2018 EWLA graduate. Her goal now is to promote a culture that empowers providers to improve care for the vulnerable.
“My identity as a physician and a leader has been shaped by my life’s journey and exposure to trying events, which have been as important in my development as a doctor as my medical studies,” she says. “These experiences have strengthened my resolve to be a high-quality leader serving more vulnerable populations.”
When family violence left Kyra Bradley with burn injuries in 2011, it didn’t matter that she was unemployed and uninsured—Parkland Health & Hospital System, in Dallas, cared for her. Not only did the hospital treat her burns and post-traumatic stress disorder, it connected her to support groups and resources to help her heal from the inside out.
“My burn family has been the most awesome family and support system, and we’ve kind of helped each other through things,” Bradley says.
Parkland staff helped her take the next step in her career after she recovered. Bradley began working part-time as a community development specialist in Parkland’s Victim Intervention Program and Rape Crisis Center, and she finished her master’s degree in social work. Now, a full-time Parkland employee, Bradley promotes the hospital’s education programs, support groups, medical assistance programs, and other resources through community health fairs, presentations, and events around Dallas County.
Drawing on her own patient experience to share Parkland’s resources with others, Bradley sees her work as a calling. “I could look at it very negatively,” she says. “But now I’m glad God chose me.”
Khoi Luong, DO, got his start in health care when he was in high school, as a medical assistant. The practice where he worked showed him the power of a strong physician-patient relationship.
“I saw that there was a special relationship that a doctor would have with their patient, and I valued the instrumental way they could help improve a patient’s health,” Luong says.
Now, as chief medical officer of post-acute care for NYC Health + Hospitals, Luong strives to cultivate similar relationships with the diverse community the health system serves. He’s especially focused on providing culturally sensitive care.
“Practicing medicine in this environment is particularly challenging in terms of how to convey what we set as standards…and having that make sense to the person as an individual and also within their community and…culture,” Luong says.
A 2018 graduate of the America’s Essential Hospitals Fellows Program and a firm believer in intentional innovation, he thinks it’s vital for essential hospitals to take the pulse of their communities.
“There’s always going to be basic needs — health care, social, education — that a community will need,” Luong says. “Being in tune to those basic needs and constantly evaluating how we deliver [care] is why we’re fundamentally needed.”
Jesse Green was only 17 when he began working at Sinai Health System, in Chicago. As a peer educator, he taught fellow high schoolers about safe sex and reproductive health.
“It was perfect, because I had a captive audience,” Green says, explaining that he presented in study halls and physical education classes, which included a required sex ed component.
Green continued that work through college. After graduating, he became coordinator of the health system’s parenting institute and later launched an educational program for young fathers.
“There were a lot of ‘aha’ moments,” he says of that program’s participants.
Green’s work with the hospital’s workforce and campus development programs led to his current role, where he advocates for Sinai at the city, state, and federal levels and listens to concerns from people in the community.
“A lot of our work goes beyond our four walls and really reaches into the community,” Green says.
Though that community comes with challenges, Green is energized by his work and passionate about the people of Chicago.
“People ask me, ‘Why do you stay there? It’s so difficult to work there,’ and I always have to refer back to our mission — that is, to take care of the least of these,” Green says. “Sinai represents hope and opportunity for me and the community that we serve.”
You could say Grady Health System President and CEO John Haupert has a hospital career in his blood. He grew up in a family of physicians and hospital board members, and at an early age he worked summers as an emergency department orderly. In that role, he quickly developed an interest in the policies that guide how care is provided and funded. Given his background and a passion for helping the less fortunate, Haupert decided to use his degrees in business administration and health care administration for a career in essential hospitals. “Serving those who the system has pushed aside is incredibly important to me,” he says.
Haupert, who also serves as board chair for America’s Essential Hospitals, thrives on complexity — an important trait for someone who runs a large, academic essential hospital. “The complexity of medical education combined with the complexity of financing essential hospitals, as well as the complexity of providing care to an underserved population all fit my personality, my personal mission, and my values very well,” he explains. Haupert constantly strives to make Grady, in Atlanta, an enriching environment for learning, an innovator in new and technologically advanced care, a leader in policy, and an advocate for social justice in the community.
As CEO of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG), Susan Ehrlich, MD, MPP, understands the vital role essential hospitals play in the lives of patients. She is a third-generation physician with deep experience in health policy and finance, including serving as budget and planning director for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
“My training and experience have set me up for the perfect career: I take care of patients, run an outstanding health care organization, and participate in health policy at the local, state, and national levels,” she says.
Ehrlich is passionate about caring for all members of the community by providing services essential to their ability to live in a healthy, positive way. She leads a hospital that does exactly that: It fills an integral role in the community as the only combined public primary and multi-specialty outpatient facility, the only emergency and acute inpatient psychiatric hospital, and the only medical emergency, medical-surgical hospital and level I trauma center.
ZSFG could not hold this unique position in the community without a team that is passionate about taking care of patients and constant improvement, Ehrlich says. She achieves both as a leader of a diverse team that she describes as “talented, compassionate, and dedicated.”
Andre Yusuf grew up in a family of bakers, “but I wanted to be a pilot,” he says. Hindered by his eyesight, Yusuf went to culinary school instead. He was working for Marriott when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, and subsequently, Celiac disease, which is a digestive disease triggered by gluten.
After his wife passed, Yusuf began thinking about her symptoms and the effect of Celiac on her body. “It occurred to me that her diet could have contributed to her cancer. I wanted to do something about it.” Yusuf studied how to use food for wellness and accepted a job at TMC, where he and his staff have drastically improved the nutrition, taste, and variety of cafeteria food. “Patients get excited about the food, and that excites me,” he says. He lets patients taste the food and offer opinions so he can continue to excite and interest them. As far as his own palate goes, “I like anything that tastes good. I can feel whether or not the chef has passion for food when I eat it, when it tastes good.”
David Douhunt chose to go to Thomas Street Health Center when first diagnosed as HIV positive because of its comprehensive, state-of-the-art AIDS care. “You can make it if you stay in care,” he says. And he believes in the quality Thomas Street provides.
Douhunt has seen many of his friends give up the fight against AIDS but he puts his energy into helping those who still have a chance to survive. As a patient mentor, he often works with the newly diagnosed. “You’re terrified,” he says of the diagnosis. “And we deal with a lot of people without a hopeful future.” But in his laid-back, playful manner, he shares his story and his hope. He talks about living longer and advances in AIDS care. And he reminds people to exercise, eat well, and enjoy their life. “I’m a fighter,” he says, and at 55, he’s still going strong.
As a former volunteer firefighter, Deanna Harris had to respond to emergencies in her own car. Sometimes her parents were with her and ended up at the scene. There, they saw the true nature of her work. Later as an EMT, she became a regular in EDs and ICUs. She eventually went to nursing school and finally retired from firefighting when the risk became too great for her pregnancy.
Harris became a nurse but missed the adrenaline of her earlier career. So, she became a flight nurse for MetroHealth. “The ability to intervene in someone’s life when they need it most is an amazing experience,” she says. Harris also trains other flight nurses, EMS staff, and physicians, which is one of her favorites parts of the job. “We’re teaching ourselves at the same time. Everyone is a better provider.” Harris’ firefighting days remain close to her heart, as she continues to protect the citizens of Ohio on the Ohio State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire, and Transportation Services.
Caryn Seaton first arrived at TMC as a pregnant cop’s wife looking for her injured husband. “It was my first time at the county hospital. I thought, ‘We just have to make the best of it,’” she says. “But we didn’t have to. We were taken care of and my impression changed, absolutely.” Though he survived that night, Seaton’s husband passed years later.
A widow with four kids, Seaton chose TMC for their care. “It was close, everything was in one place, and I preferred it.” She had her first stroke while at TMC’s OB clinic for an exam. “The physician saw what was happening and took me right to the ER.” Now, after multiple strokes, she credits TMC’s physicians with her ability to shock neurologists. “They don’t know why I’m still alive,” she jokes. But alive she is and a constant presence at TMC, knitting blankets for new moms and mufflers for homeless people. The anger at her physical deterioration past, she’s learned to do other things. “You can’t ever quit learning, and TMC never quits teaching.” It is a quiet movement, she says, to serve us all.
Marlon White grew up playing football. According to his dad, “He should be playing on Sunday.” He was heavily recruited for college and accepted a scholarship to Prairie View A&M University, choosing to stay close to home.
When money ran tight, White left school to work for a pipe company, where an oncoming train nearly took his life. He was flown to Ben Taub Hospital, and physicians pumped nine pints of blood into his body and used an experimental drug to reduce swelling in his brain. “They treated us like family,” his dad says of Ben Taub. “It made me learn to respect people more, to treat them equally.” Three months later White went home, weighing 109 lbs. “He had to re-learn everything,” his dad says. “We started with one finger for ‘yes,’ two for ‘no.’ Four years later, he’s learning how to walk again with the help of Harris Health’s physical therapists. He works out three times a week and plans to finish school. “Hard work pays off,” he says. To his parents, he is strength and inspiration.