A health care leader from the grassroots

East Boston’s Manny Lopes emerging as player on city, state level

COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS often have a strong grassroots connection to the neighborhoods they serve. But no center may proclaim that more loudly through its leadership than the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Its president and CEO, Manny Lopes, is a native son of Eastie whose first job after high school was as an 18-year-old field researcher at the nonprofit health care center.

He now not only leads the neighborhood health center, he’s emerging as an important health care leader in the city and state. In December, Lopes was named chair of the city’s Board of a Health, which oversees the Boston Public Health Commission, and he also serves as chairman of new collaboration among 17 health centers statewide that is part of a big state Medicaid initiative that is trying to deliver better quality care at lower price.

Lopes, appearing on the latest episode of the “Health or Consequences” Codcast, said the Medicaid effort to test the impact of “accountable care organizations” is promising, but still unproven. “We’re still waiting for the data and we’re still early in the process,” he told hosts John McDonough of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Paul Hattis of the Tufts School of Medicine.

While the cost data from the project are eagerly anticipated, Lopes said, anecdotally, it appears that patients are getting more comprehensive services, and he has no doubt that the approach taken by accountable care organizations — to consider more broadly issues affecting patient health, such as housing and food and nutrition — is the right thing to do for patient well-being. That approach, he said, is embedded in the very concept of community health centers, now a staple of many low-income communities nationwide, but a model that got its start in Boston 50 years ago.

“From many respects, this is what we’ve been set up to do, and now we have greater resources to do that work,” he said.

Lopes, who is Cape Verdean, said race issues are always present in his mind as he navigates the largely white world of health care leaders in the city and state. “It is a challenge every day,” he said. “You walk into many settings and you are the only one in many cases.” He said it drives him to perform “at the highest level” because he’s always aware “there may be individuals who are doubting your capabilities.”

At the same time, he said he tries to use his role to help other people of color in the field. “You have a great opportunity to bring on the next generation of leaders and to be an individual of influence and to try to help that next person of color access the opportunities that I’ve been able to access,” Lopes said.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

While Massachusetts rightly can take some pride in its very high health care coverage rates compared with many states, Lopes said there’s plenty of work still to be done here.

“I’m hoping I’ll see it in my lifetime where not only coverage but access and equal health care will be delivered in the way we would want for ourselves, our children, our parents — and regardless of age, culture, language, that everyone receives the same level care,” he said. “But absolutely, we do have still challenges here in Massachusetts.”