The College of Nursing and Health Sciences welcomed three high-profile Boston leaders on Tuesday for a discussion on health disparities, mentorship and perseverance.
Felix G. Arroyo, chief of health and human services for the city of Boston and a former city councilor, participated in the “Set Sail For Success” panel along with Eric Schultz, president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley.
All three panelists noted the unfortunate reality of health disparities in Boston—the differences in care and outcomes experienced by people according to their socioeconomic conditions. Arroyo, who was raised in Hyde Park as one of five children in a working-class immigrant family, said residents of his neighborhood had limited access to the top-flight medical care available at Boston’s famed teaching hospitals.
“If you grew up in Hyde Park like I did, you didn’t know those buildings were for you, anyway,” he said. “Plenty of kids in our city had no idea that Longwood Medical was a place you could go to get services.”
Boston has addressed the problem by encouraging the development of a thriving network of community health centers that can compete with any prestigious hospital, Arroyo said.
Arroyo said his parents told him that he would face certain obstacles as a person of color. What is important, he said, is that people work to conquer those obstacles, rather than shy away from them.
“I learned at a young age that it’s not fair, but it is what it is and it’s our job to remove those obstacles and to make so that the next generation has less of them,” Arroyo said.
To identify and correct these disparities, Schultz said, “we need to more effectively put ourselves in the other person’s position. Speaking to the students, he said, “Being able to do that as a nurse will be an important common step toward really eliminating these access issues to health care.”
The panel also discussed the power of mentors. Motley outlined a long list of mentors who served as positive role models for him during his childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Every phase of my life has been filled with someone who mentored me,” Motley said. One of his mentors when he arrived in Boston was Arroyo’s father, Felix D. Arroyo, a respected teacher and politician who worked for Mayor Ray Flynn and Senator John Kerry. Motley later became a mentor to the younger Arroyo.
Motley also noted the university’s close geographic and philosophical bond with its Mt. Vernon Street neighbor, Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center, the first of its kind in the country.
“I have the honor of leading a university that has a College of Nursing and Health Sciences that understands that and has been ahead of the game in this notion of work in our community,” he said.