Michael Curry to head health center group
Former NAACP pres. will lead advocacy for MA health centers
The first-ever community health center opened its doors in 1965 in Columbia Point, beginning a history of bringing primary care to the underserved. More than 50 years later, support for community health centers remains crucial, especially during health emergencies like COVID-19. In Massachusetts, Michael Curry will be leading the charge in 2021 as the new president of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
A past president of the Boston NAACP, Curry has dedicated his life to health care and service to the greater Boston community through his activism and leadership. He has a long history with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where he served as senior policy advisor. After finishing his law degree in Boston, he has worked at MLCHC since 2008, working his way to deputy CEO. He will replace outgoing president James W. Hunt Jr. in January 2021.
“I’m a Roxbury kid, born and raised in a housing development in a low-income neighborhood, and I got my care at health centers,” Curry told the Banner. “And like me, kids of color, poor white kids across the country, were going into health centers to get their care and their dental, their eye care, way before we even knew this term called ‘medical home,’ the one-stop shop for everything you would need.”
The MLCHC is dedicated to promoting health equity by supporting community health centers across the state. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant finding ways to open up more testing sites, secure funding so that health care workers could be protected from losing their jobs and distribute PPE to protect workers from contracting the virus.
“If you want to know the racial disparities that are playing out in a pandemic, come into a community health center, and you’ll find out that it is the Black and brown folks that were disproportionately contracting and dying of COVID-19,” Curry said.
He noted that while hospitals deal with serious challenges during health emergencies, community health centers are on the front lines getting people tested and vaccinated. He calls them the “tip of the spear” in responding to the pandemic.
One of the challenges Curry says health centers are facing today is finding new ways to address the social determinants of health.
“We’re at a point across this country, where all providers … are now trying to think, what is our collective role in addressing the underlying health disparities that drive people into our facilities?” he said.
One of the disparities is in health insurance. While Massachusetts has a low rate of noninsured compared to the rest of the nation, a few of the commonwealth’s residents still lack health insurance, which often drives them to health centers.
“And then you don’t even factor in the underinsured population – people who don’t have adequate coverage to get the care that they need. They have high deductibles, limited benefits, and those circumstances create barriers to care as well,” Curry said.
He believes health centers have the key to eliminating health disparities, rather than just reducing them. The challenge, he said, is finding out how to shift resources and further reimburse community health centers in a way that aligns with the current needs in the commonwealth.
The center Curry remembers most fondly is Roxbury Comprehensive Health Center on Warren Street, which closed in 2013.
“I don’t want to lose another health center in my lifetime,” he said.
Roslyn M. Brock, chairman emeritus of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said that Curry is the best leader to shape the growth of MLCHC during these unprecedented times.
“[Curry] is a highly confident, compassionate and committed servant leader who has his finger on the pulse of public health policy, practices and reforms that address the socio-economic needs of vulnerable and under resourced communities,” she said.