In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, NACHC is featuring leaders in the health center movement like Paula S. Gómez, the Executive Director of Brownsville Community Health Center. A Brownsville native, Paula has been actively involved in the Community Health Center movement both locally and nationally since 1974. BCHC serves as both a community and migrant health center, providing high-quality comprehensive primary health care services with excellence and dignity to the residents of Brownsville and southern Cameron County.
NACHC’s Rachel Gonzales-Hanson, Senior Vice President for Western Operations, says of Gómez: “Paula is an icon in the Health Center Movement and a mentor to many, including me. Her work and impact have been felt at the local, state and national levels. Gracias, Paula, for your dedication to improving the lives of so many – more than you will ever imagine.”
Paula S. Gomez
Emily Alpert, who worked as Chief Operating Officer with Gómez for many years, says: “She’s a very determined advocate and really knows how to read people and get what she needs for the clinic. She will go to the greatest lengths to take care of the people who need help.”
Bonnie Lefkowitz captured stories about Gómez’s early years as a leader in her must-read book , Community Health Centers: A Movement and the People Who Made it Happen.
We asked Gómez to share with us some of her story and her approach to leading a health center.
NACHC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Paula Gómez: I have been in the health center movement since 1974 when I went to work for Su Clinica Familiar in Harlingen, Texas, as a research analyst and grant writer. My background is in Biology and Journalism having worked in various capacities in both the private and public sector over the years since I was 16 years of age.
NACHC: What was your path to the health center movement?
Gómez: I went to work at Su Clinica Familiar rather than leaving the country to work in El Salvador where I had been asked to teach English at the American school. I went to work under the Executive Director, Daniel R. Hawkins at the time. I advanced fairly quickly as a Clinic Manager and ultimately as an administrative assistant to the Executive Director as well as Human Resources Director.
I worked at Su Clinica Familiar for almost 10 years then came to work at the Brownsville Community Health Center in October 1984 as their Executive Director. At that time the clinic was under the auspices of the City of Brownsville. In 1987 we separated from the City of Brownsville and became a private, not-for-profit.
I learned early to not believe I had to know everything nor that people were ever going to praise me for any decision I make.Paula S. Gómez
NACHC: How has your background influenced your work as a health center leader?
Gómez: As a journalist, the key is always “active listening.” This one thing has always served me well. Not only had I learned to write for publication quickly but accurately, but I had also learned to listen and check facts before determining which direction to take.
I learned early to not believe I had to know everything nor that people were ever going to praise me for any decision I make. Most of all, my different jobs showed me that my reading and writing skills would allow me to learn anything I set my mind on learning and that it is better to have your team understand where we should all be going for the greater good. My background in biology, working doing a bit of field research, helped me to hone skills in detail and referencing. My skills as a journalist have always helped in developing and delivering messages internally and externally.
NACHC: What gets you up in the morning after this difficult 18 months?
Gómez: Knowing that decisions need to be made that affect a great deal of people, wanting to be on top of the community health center movement and where it is heading, understanding this ever-changing environment with the pandemic, knowing that people are depending on us for answers and solutions to their medical problems and knowing that planning for the future is a never-ending need, keeps me motivated and moving in the morning. No accolades necessary, no “thanks” necessary.