Elizabeth Swain, CHCANYS President and CEO since 2005, will be inducted into the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) Grassroots Advocacy Hall of Fame next Thursday, March 17 in Washington, D.C. Grassroots Advocacy Hall of Fame members have all made lasting contributions to ensuring the creation, survival and strength of community health centers and the community health center movement through their dedicated and tireless efforts over many years. In recognition of this honor, we asked Elizabeth to describe what influenced her to become an advocate.
“Growing up in small town New Hampshire in the 50’s and 60’s, four children gathered around the supper table, conversation between our parents focused a lot on the Manchester Union Leader and its conservative publisher, William Loeb. This was not surprising since my father was an editor at the Claremont Daily Eagle, my mother was outspoken on numerous fronts, and both were progressive voices in New Hampshire. Anyway, lots of heated supper table discourse during which the children were to be seen but not heard.
New Hampshire license plates have had the state’s motto “Live Free or Die” stamped on them since 1945. My parents, being the progressives that they were, objected to the idea that the notoriously conservative state that New Hampshire was in the mid-20th century would require that they drive around with such an outspoken message on their car. So when I was a young child just learning about all of this, my father began placing masking tape over those words on the license plates. The advocate was born, the rest is history. In my early years, having parents and older siblings who taught me how to stand up for what I believed in while at the same time being exposed to the news of assassinations, burning cities, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and anti-war movements – what an education!
I walked into my first community clinic – the Pike Market Community Clinic in Seattle, Washington – in early 1981. Still in my twenties and looking for work which was meaningful to me, this event thirty-five years ago began a lifetime of community health center work. I worked as the receptionist for two years on my journey to learn operations and finance and eventually become an Executive Director of a health center in Seattle. I had one set of skills pretty well established by then – that of an advocate for community clinic patients.
After years of work as a community health center advocate, in a few jobs allowing me the privilege of building and leading programs and then organizations, I came back home – not to New Hampshire, but to New York State, to work for the Community Health Care Association of New York State and continue the work that I love at a time when the movement had sparked dramatic growth in our health centers across the nation. CHCANYS became my new professional home, and what a place to be! Thirty five years after I walked into the Pike Market Clinic, CHCANYS continues to be the best job I could have wished for. We have accomplished so much, but there’s so much more to do as we reconfirm our dedication to the people of New York and access to high quality primary health care for all.”
Joining Elizabeth as inductee this year is Paloma Hernandez, President and CEO of Urban Health Plan, who has devoted her career to reducing the health disparities in the Bronx community that has been identified as the poorest congressional district in the country. Congratulations to Elizabeth and Paloma on this well-deserved recognition of their longtime service and dedication to community health centers and their patients, and their tireless efforts to expand access to high-quality, primary and preventive health care to the communities that need it most.