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Dr. H. Jack Geiger is Honored at Westside Family Health Equity Forum

June 5, 2018

The Health Equity Forum this spring, in celebration of Westside Family Healthcare’s 30th anniversary, featured a conversation with world-renowned leader in community health, Dr. H. Jack Geiger. Founding member of Physicians for Human Rights and co-founder of America’s Community Health Center movement more than 50 years ago, Dr. Geiger shared his life’s work, which he’s dedicated to achieving health equity in the primary care setting.

Dr. Geiger started the conversation with this: “Long before I thought about medicine, I cared about civil rights, human rights, injustice, and discrimination.” He explained that he was fortunate in having a window into the black community — spending time in the company of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes back in the 1940s. It was during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement that he was exposed to an entirely different circle of life.

Dr. Geiger called it “good luck” to be in the right place at the right time. At the University of Wisconsin, he helped launch a campaign to accept black and Asian tenants. In South Africa, during Apartheid, he worked with Emily Carp — one of the pioneers of primary health care — and learned that medicine could be an instrument of change. During Freedom Summer with Martin Luther King and Andrew Young, Dr. Geiger listened as they engaged in heated debates about civil rights.

Those experiences and many others influenced Dr. Geiger to create two landmark health care facilities that changed the face of health equity: the American Community Health Center in Columbia Point, Boston, and another in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.

The term “social determinants of health” hadn’t been invented yet but Dr. Geiger knew precisely the role they played in health — he couldn’t help noticing their affects wherever he went. For that reason, the first community health centers focused on not just medical but non-medical needs. “We dug wells, planted crops, protected water supplies, repaired steps so expectant mothers didn’t fall. Anything that helped to remove the barriers to better lives was fair game. And no one was turned away,” he said.

Today, 1,500 community health centers — including Westside Family Health — provide care for 27 million people in a dignified setting.

In closing, and throughout the forum, Lolita Lopez, President and CEO of Westside Family Health, expressed her admiration for Dr. Geiger’s work. “He is my hero,” she said. “Through his life and achievements, I was inspired to become a leader of community health in Delaware. It is one of the greatest joys of my life to be involved with Westside Family Health.”

At the close of the event, Dan Hawkins of National Association of Community Health Centers presented Dr. Thomas Stephens and Lolita Lopez of Westside Family Healthcare an award recognizing excellence in providing quality, comprehensive health care for the Delaware community.

In turn, Westside Family Health announced the creation of its own honor named for Dr. Geiger — the Dr. H. Jack Geiger True North Visionary Award. Fittingly, Lopez presented the first award of its kind to Dr. Geiger for his work as a leader and advocate for community health centers and community health.