Event Recap: Prosperity, Power and Progress - A Conversation With Latinx Leaders

September 28, 2023

BILH Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with Latinx Leaders Event

As part of Beth Israel Lahey Health’s (BILH) celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we recently hosted an event with prominent Latinx leaders to discuss the economic, political and social growth and prosperity of the Hispanic community.

Moderated by Juan Fernando Lopera, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at BILH, the conversation featured insights from Josiane Martinez, founder and CEO of Archipelago Strategies Group (ASG), and Joseph R. Betancourt, MD, MPH, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

Dr. Betancourt’s mother, Luz Betancourt, a longtime employee at Mount Auburn Hospital, was also in attendance. Event speakers and participants took time to recognize Mrs. Betancourt for her recent retirement and her many contributions to BILH.

BILH Latinx Leaders Event 2023

(L-R) Josiane Martinez, Joseph R. Betancourt, MD, MPH, Luz Betancourt and Juan Fernando Lopera

Why We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is a 30-day celebration of the remarkable contributions Hispanic communities have made to the wider success of the country. Beginning Sep. 15 and lasting until Oct. 15, we at BILH use this time to recognize the achievements of our Latinx colleagues and patients while identifying opportunities to continue promoting the prosperity of our communities.

Roots of Success: From Struggle to Prosperity

Martinez came to the United States from Puerto Rico, and despite already having a bachelor’s degree, she had few resources and found her first job in her new country at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

“A lot of Latinos that come here have to work two or three jobs,” she said. “I worked many different jobs before I was discovered by Deval Patrick, our former governor, and had the opportunity to work on his campaign. We launched the first multi-cultural campaign in the history of a gubernatorial race.”

Although Dr. Betancourt was born in the United States, his grandparents emigrated from Puerto Rico in the late 1950s, and his family’s story followed a familiar trajectory.

“There was sacrifice, there was struggle,” he said. “I had one grandmother working in the sweatshops in Manhattan, another grandmother cleaning rooms at a YMCA. This is the struggle, but that struggle is something that we share as a community.”

Both speakers were unapologetic about the impact their backgrounds have had in their lives. Now that they are more secure, they want to give back and repay the huge sacrifices their ancestors made for them by helping to pave a better path for future generations.

Closing the Care Equity Gap

Martinez and Dr. Betancourt have each been at the forefront of the effort to close the healthcare equity gap in the Hispanic community, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Martinez talked about the establishment of vaccination sites within Hispanic neighborhoods to help lower transportation barriers, making it easier for individuals to access the care they needed. She also discussed efforts to educate the population on the efficacy and safety of vaccines in order to build trust.

The results were astounding.

“I wish you were there with us in East Boston,” she said. “We had lines of 300 people waiting to get a vaccine in the middle of Liberty Square. There was music, there was food, there were giveaways.”

For his part, Dr. Betancourt said that closing the equity gap during the pandemic required taking a holistic view of the entire healthcare system. While his health organization already had a robust network of interpreter services, they were overwhelmed by the demands of the pandemic.

He helped create the Spanish Language Care Group, which rallied support from among staff to provide essential information, resources and services to patients in Spanish. By the time the Spanish Language Care Group was up and running, it had 51 volunteers working across 15 different clinical disciplines.

“This showed the incredible courage the community has in service of [the Hispanic] community,” he said. “People did this to make sure patients had access to a Spanish-speaking doctor.”

The Journey to Healthcare Equity Continues

Martinez and Dr. Betancourt made a positive impact on the healthcare equity gap during the pandemic, but they each stressed that the work is far from complete. It will take both leadership buy-in and grassroots organization working in tandem to institute lasting change.

Following the conversation with our panel guests, event attendees were invited to participate in a salsa dancing class hosted by the dance group Salsa y Control before enjoying the foods and sounds of Latin America.