On January 26, 2021, our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jessie Gaeta received the prestigious Pinnacle Award from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, for her Achievement in Health Care and Life Sciences. This annual award honors nine remarkable female professionals in Greater Boston for outstanding achievement in the workplace, demonstrated leadership that has made a difference, and a commitment to enhancing the quality of life in the region. The following are her remarks.
Thank you, Lisa. It’s such a huge honor to receive this award, and I’m deeply grateful. I think it’s difficult to accept this recognition of achievement at a time when I feel so acutely that my colleagues and I have so much more work ahead of us—at both my own program and across our entire health care system.
By that work, of course, I refer to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been hands-down the greatest challenge of my career. I’ve managed to just barely keep my head above water by tapping into a deep sense of determination as well as the love and support of my wife and children, a good exercise bike, and a really sweet puppy named Nala.
As my public health colleagues and I reflect on the enormous efforts that the first COVID wave required of us, we now find ourselves in the midst of a daunting second wave and the beginning of a mass vaccination campaign that, at least in my own career, has had no parallel. One of the things that I’ve had to confront is the deep skepticism and mistrust expressed by many people of color within our COVID care spaces, isolation sites, and now in our vaccination efforts. It’s been difficult over the years to reckon with how my own profession has harmed people of color, and as I continue to hear from patients about their experiences of racism in health care, I’ve had to dig deeper and examine how my own implicit bias negatively affects the care I provide and the systems I design.
For the disproportionately high number of COVID cases who are people of color, their health and survival will depend on the medical establishment confronting significant histories of mistrust and inequities in both resources and outcomes of care, which have been severe and predictable. In the weeks and months and years to come, I look forward to working harder than ever with my colleagues to rebuild trust in our health care system among people of color. It’s only by doing so that I believe we will be able to fully heal from this pandemic and to emerge as a more resilient community.