Lou Brady began his career not working to improve health care but near the opposite end of the spectrum: selling breakfast cereal.
Brady, the new president and CEO of the Family Health Center of Worcester, graduated college with a management degree and became a sales representative for New York manufacturer General Foods, selling Post cereal in Connecticut. It wasn’t the type of career he had in mind, and he realized it one day while setting up a display.
“Do I really want my legacy to be sugary cereal?” he asked himself.
Brady’s tasks these days are far different.
Brady took over April 1 for Frances Anthes, leading a public service agency Anthes helmed for 22 years. The Family Health Center isn’t what it used to be: In the past decade, the annual patient count has risen by one-fifth to 35,000 patients. Only 6,500 patients a year passed through the doors when Anthes took over in 1997.
Needs are more pressing than ever.
Three out of four patients live below the poverty line, making it difficult to buy healthy food or a gym membership, or afford child care to get to work or appointments. Nearly half of the health center’s patients now speak a language other than English, often making something as simple as a physical check-up more complex to arrange.
The center’s staff now speaks more than 50 languages.
Overcoming cultural barriers
Brady, with two decades of experience in public health care behind him, is up to the challenge.
Brady grew up in Springfield as the youngest of four boys, with a mother from St. Lucia and a father from Jamaica. His father didn’t visit a doctor until he was 74 – a fact, Brady says, that illustrates a lack of trust certain cultures have for doctors. Brady and his staff at the center are constantly working to overcome this problem.
When a patient goes in for a check-up, he or she could be referred to an on-site dentist or eye doctor, or receive addiction treatment services. With mammography, HIV care and other specialties in house, someone with a reluctance to go to the doctor’s office doesn’t have to worry about making it to a range of different locations.
“We show love to the unloved. We see those who are overlooked,” Brady said in an interview in his office, in one of a few instances of turning to rhetoric to describe a mission often including trying to solve relentless issues like substance abuse and homelessness.
It was Brady’s parents who – even if they long didn’t recognize the value of a medical check-up – taught their sons to value their work in a deeper way.
“You have a higher calling, and you need to figure out what that is,” Brady said of his parents message.
The consensus choice
At the Family Health Center, that calling has brought Brady to spend his first days meeting with key figures in the city and introducing himself to staff. He worked for weeks with Anthes to smoothen the transition, and already is looking for ways to increase capacity to treat more patients, especially for primary care and substance abuse.
“We’re straining to meet that need,” he said.
Plans to potentially expand capacity are balanced against pulls in other directions, including the center’s participation in a new state program called the Community Care Cooperative, a network of similar providers working together to treat MassHealth patients. The health center, which has its main facility on Queen Street, has offices in seven schools in Worcester and Webster and a center in Southbridge.
The Family Health Center’s board of directors found near unanimity in choosing Brady for the job, said Lynda Rowe, the board’s chair.
The board spent a day and a half each with Brady and other finalists, introducing him to people at the center and around the community and even going out to dinner. When Brady met with the center’s executives and physicians, consensus quickly formed that Brady was the right move, Rowe said.
Rowe said Brady’s years of work in community health centers gave him a strong operational background and an understanding of the mission of such centers.
“Part of it is his charismatic and dynamic personality,” Rowe said, adding Brady shared another set of critical traits: “Skills and passion and desire to learn and grow and become part of the community.”
The right opportunity
The Family Health Center of Worcester is the latest challenge for Brady, who moved to Worcester upon taking the new position.
After deciding cereal sales weren’t for him, Brady began working as a registration assistant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston while getting his MBA from Northeastern University. From there, he worked in leadership positions at Jewish Memorial Hospital in Boston and the Lowell Community Health Center, as well as at two health centers in Connecticut.
Brady was most recently the chief operations officer for Cornell Scott Hill Health Center in New Haven, Conn.
He’s known Anthes for two decades, and found her pending departure from Worcester was a sign he had the right opportunity for him, considering the values the two share.
“We have a very similar core,” Brady said.
The Worcester Business Journal