In September, Arturo Brito MD, MPH, will become the third leader of our 34-year-old organization. A community pediatrician with a population health focus, Dr. Brito joins us in the midst of an unflagging pandemic and as Children’s Health Fund charts a new path forward. Come along with us as we get to know our new leader!
Interview by María de los Ángeles Corral, associate vice president, Marketing and Communications
What’s something that people don’t know about you?
I was born in Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua when I was seven. As an immigrant, I watched my family struggle. This experience has given me a greater sensitivity about how racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other types of discrimination can make it very hard for children and families to thrive. On the other hand, I also learned that, when given the opportunity, most people are likely to succeed.
It’s not only about justice, it is also about what is good for the country: when we ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their potential, we are ensuring the future of our country.
What’s your biggest passion?
My whole career has been devoted to underserved populations. Every parent or caregiver wants what’s best for their child, and accessing healthcare is part of that; but it’s not all of it. It’s also about making sure that everyone has adequate housing and quality educational opportunities, starting in early childhood. Optimal health is about tying access to comprehensive healthcare services to these and other health-related social needs.
I loved clinical practice, but gradually gravitated towards finding upstream solutions (addressing problems at their source) to support clinicians like those in CHF’s National Network. Every day, National Network providers do everything possible to support children and families in some of the most marginalized communities in our country. I look forward to rejoining them and working together to translate their on-the-ground work into effective advocacy and policy around child health.
Why did you return to CHF?
The Children’s Health Fund is an incredible organization with a group of dedicated national partners like no other: pediatricians, nurses, mental health providers, dentists, social workers, and others, working together to provide comprehensive services to children and families throughout the country. It is my honor to once again work alongside them.
CHF also has an advocacy and policy arm which provides opportunities both at the state and national levels to create sustainable and wide-ranging change that will improve the health and well-being of children and families across the country. CHF’s partners in the National Network don’t just simply address the needs of the individual child. They deal with the child in the context of their family and community. They approach health holistically.
Given the current pandemic public health crisis, what is important to you as the new leader of CHF?
There’s a lot of press about the infectious disease component of COVID-19 and a lot of focus on social distancing and people getting vaccinated, as there should be. I just worry that we’re not focused enough on the mental health of children and families. We need to ensure that all children and families have access to mental health and other supportive services.
What current social issues impact child health? And what role do you see for Children’s Health Fund in addressing these?
Inadequate housing, lack of transportation, the absence of educational opportunities, racism, lead and other environmental toxins, neighborhood violence, among others, all affect health.
And then there is trauma. We need to focus more on root causes of disease, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which affects all populations. While trauma is part of life, not having the resources to help children deal with the trauma can affect physical and mental health, lifelong. We will work to translate on-the-ground lessons into effective advocacy and policy change. We will identify upstream solutions to prevent ACEs from happening, to the extent possible, and to provide the resources to help families and communities address them.
Racism and implicit bias in the healthcare system are certainly a part of the problem. To address this, CHF has prioritized efforts around health equity and we will continue to work with others to make progress.
What is your biggest lesson?
It has been a decade since I last worked at CHF. In that time period, I learned so much about the importance of partnering with government, philanthropy, and community. It is through those partnerships that we will transform our nation’s systems to benefit children and families.