Health Advocacy and Action: Charlie Alfero on Health Action 2019
Charlie Alfero has been a staunch health advocate for over 40 years. Currently the Executive Director of The Southwest Center for Health Innovation and the New Mexico Primary Care Training Consortium and a member of Families USA’s Health Equity Task Force for Delivery and Payment Transformation, Charlie Alfero has been tirelessly working towards access and health equity in New Mexico and nationwide.
Charlie’s unflagging dedication to health care as brought him to Washington, D.C. and Health Action Conference many times before. Health Action 2019: Fighting For America’s Families will be his fourth Health Action Conference.
I spoke with Charlie about health advocacy, and what Health Action means to him.
Families USA: Why do you think health advocacy is so important?
Charlie Alfero: There are so many holes in the health care system, so many policies that don’t support access and equity; the right systems that we need. I think it’s critical. We can keep paying exorbitant amounts for health care delivery, or we can try to figure out how to make affordable, better health care.
Families USA: Do you think that Health Action has helped you become a more effective advocate?
Charlie Alfero: Yes, I do. I’ve made a lot of connections through the annual conference and committee [the Health Equity Task Force for Delivery and Payment Transformation] with Families USA. I know many other people working on the same things helps to not only validate what you do, but to provide more innovative thinking. We’re here in the middle of nowhere, pretty much, so to become part of national thinking is very important. Health Action Conference has been a great opportunity to expand our thinking and partnerships and collaboration.
Families USA: What keeps bringing you back to Health Action year after year?
Charlie Alfero: Well, Sinsi [Hernández-Cancio, director of the Center on Health Equity for System Transformation, Families USA] and now Frederick [Isasi, executive director of Families USA ]. (laughs) No, just kidding. You guys have great staff, and the people who work on health equity work and community health workers are just great folks. The people from around the country that they put together to provide workshops are excellent representatives of what they do. And I think that now that Frederick is the Executive Director, I’ve known him for many years, it’s just gotten even better at Families USA.
Families USA: Do you have a favorite speaker, workshop, or memory from Health Action Conferences that you have attended over the years?
Charlie Alfero: Revered William Barber’s lunchtime speech was really one of my favorite all-time speakers. He was so motivational, so moving, so intensely passionate. It was the first time I ever cried at a lunch speaker. (laughs) It was great.
Families USA: What are you most looking forward to at Health Action 2019? Is there something you look forward to from year to year?
Charlie Alfero: Networking, as usual, and learning what’s happening around improvements in Medicaid, Medicare, and access. I like the evening reception networking, the in-between session networking. I like presenting at Health Action and I like moderating there. I moderated a panel last year, and I enjoyed that very much.
Families USA: Do you have any advice for younger advocates who are just starting out in health care advocacy?
Charlie Alfero: To keep everything they do in the context of the bigger picture. That the reason we have Program A, is because we’re failing at System A. We are often forced to deal with the very specific program deliverables, and not the big picture. Say for instance, if college was free, and we have better opportunities for underrepresented populations in health care to get a better education, they can work on getting more people interested in health careers. But if you don’t look at the bigger picture, at what the inhibitors are of debt and discrimination and rural people, the different education systems, rural and urban, those are really the underlying reasons of why there’s racism, those are underlying reasons why certain categories of people are underrepresented in health careers. Always think beyond running the program, and understand why that program is necessary--and figure out how to make it unnecessary through policy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
At the Health Action Conference, you not only have the opportunity to learn and be inspired, but also to network and connect with amazing advocates and health care policy professionals like Charlie. Health Action 2019 will leave you with invaluable insights to take back to your organization and community that will motivate you to keep Fighting for America’s Families.