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.
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.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.”