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Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa pediatrician wins North Bay Latino business leadership award

Jose E. Morales, M.D., MPH

Pediatrician

Kaiser Permanente

401 Bicentennial, Santa Rosa 95403

707-566-5313

thrive.kaiserpermanente.org

Quick takes

Words that best describe you: Multicultural, curious, active, caring, supportive, and family oriented

Current reading: “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” By Haruki Murakami

Most want to meet: My grandfather. He passed away when I was 6 years old. I would love to sit with him and listen to stories about growing up in Puerto Rico over 100 years ago. I would like to know how he overcame obstacles, became a successful businessman, and what it was like bringing his family to the U.S. as immigrants in the 50’s.

Stress relievers: Spending time with family and working in our garden with my wife

Favorite hobbies: Hiking, backpacking, and learning pottery

Read about other winners of this year’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Now is the time to “double down” on family and friendships, said Jose E. Morales, M.D., MPH, a 2020 winner of the Business Journal’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Education: Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health

Tell us your story and that of your organization: I was born and raised in Miami, Florida.

My father was an immigrant from Puerto Rico and my mother from the U.S. Going through the public school system, I had friends from all over the Caribbean and Latin America.

Every day I witnessed the ‘American dream’ play out seeing a family’s hard work lead to the opportunity of upward mobility.

I graduated college in natural science, however I lacked a clear goal of what I wanted for a career. After a year traveling/working in South and Central America I found myself longing to get back to my roots and find a career that would support the underserved and immigrant population.

With this in mind, I decided to become a physician. As they say, the rest is history! Kaiser Permanente was my first choice because of their integrative health care model and the focus on prevention. I was lucky enough to be hired by the KP Santa Rosa Department of Pediatrics in 1997 and have had amazing career support for over 20 years.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

In January 2020, I was appointed by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors as a commissioner for First 5 Sonoma County.

One of nine commissioners, we are charged with stewarding statewide Prop. 10 tobacco tax dollars that come into the county.

First 5 Sonoma County invests approximately $6M annually in programs, services, and systems that support the optimal development, health and school readiness of children, birth to five years old, as well as promoting nurturing care giving and parenting and high-quality early care and education.

First 5 also prioritizes the needs of the Latino community and supports initiatives that target the significant disparities in health and school readiness.

In May, I was a part of an ad hoc review committee that was responsible for awarding $400k in Responsive Grants funding to address the impact of COVID-19 on young children. It was a great experience being able to leverage my knowledge around COVID-19 as a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente with a multidisciplinary team of community health experts and advocates.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Growing up in a traditional household the men in my family worked long hours and were seldom involved family life. With the wonderful support of my wife, who was also raised in this tradition, we have moved away from repeating this legacy. We have worked together to raise two amazing daughters and maintain close family ties.

What is your biggest challenge today?

It has been, and continues to be, advocating for those whose voice is overlooked. This includes the children in our community as well as those the system leaves behind.

What are you most proud of regarding the achievements of the area Latino business community and what are the greatest challenges faced by that community?:

The Latino business community has done an amazing job of creating a unified message for Sonoma County.

Especially in advocating for equality, fairness, and respect. I am most proud seeing this vision positively influence Sonoma County development at all levels.

One great challenge we face is youth education and the support for upward mobility. It will be very difficult for Sonoma County to reach its full potential without a strong, educated, and thriving work force. For the good of Sonoma County we need to continue our investment in all levels of education and mentorship.

Words that best describe you: Multicultural, curious, active, caring, supportive, and family oriented

As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

I am the first person in my family to become a physician. There were no role models to help guide the path and it has always been hard to find relatable mentors. Improvising was common and led to a few mistakes along the way. Never losing hope and avoiding naysayers always sounds easier in retrospect, however this did help.

My father insisted we give our best effort and I remember having to repeat many tasks as a child if I tried to cut corners. As an adult, I often face obstacles as an opportunity to work a little harder. I guess it has been a combination of stubbornness and family values that keep me going.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

The unexpected series of historic and paradigm-shifting events that have taken place in 2020, will undoubtedly change the future of health care.

Jose E. Morales, M.D., MPH

Pediatrician

Kaiser Permanente

401 Bicentennial, Santa Rosa 95403

707-566-5313

thrive.kaiserpermanente.org

Quick takes

Words that best describe you: Multicultural, curious, active, caring, supportive, and family oriented

Current reading: “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” By Haruki Murakami

Most want to meet: My grandfather. He passed away when I was 6 years old. I would love to sit with him and listen to stories about growing up in Puerto Rico over 100 years ago. I would like to know how he overcame obstacles, became a successful businessman, and what it was like bringing his family to the U.S. as immigrants in the 50’s.

Stress relievers: Spending time with family and working in our garden with my wife

Favorite hobbies: Hiking, backpacking, and learning pottery

Read about other winners of this year’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Virtual health care technologies like telehealth visits, video visits, and home-based care will become more of a norm. The near future will also bring a long overdue focus on health disparities and the social determinants of health. The events of 2020 will be the catalyst that lead to more upstream investments, pro-health policies, that create real and lasting change.

Who was your most important mentor?

Mark Losleben. He was my supervisor when, as a student, I worked at the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station. Having no prior experience, he took a chance with me, gave me a job, taught me about science and creativity. His encouragement gave me the foundation I needed to grow in a college setting. Sometimes it was the ‘look’ that said it all. When I was stumped it said: “You can do it! Now keep trying.”

Tell us about your community involvement: For the past 20 years, I have had the honor of volunteering with numerous community agencies. This includes school based clinics in Roseland; presentations at local schools; sitting with county leaders reviewing adverse childhood events; coordinating Kaiser Permanente’s Neighbors in Health Program serving the uninsured; mentoring dozens of students; and serving as a commissioner for First 5 Sonoma County.

Community involvement and community health have long been a passion of mine. I am fortunate to work for an organization that shares the same mission, vision, and values. One that is committed to partnering with government agencies, local businesses, nonprofits, and other safety net organizations to leverage resources that expand access, improve health outcomes, and promote equity for vulnerable and underserved populations.

What advice would you give to a young person today?

Make up your own mind and follow your own dreams. Due to social media, all of us are bombarded with other people’s opinions. We are told what we should think, what is important, and what has ‘value.’ It takes courage and personal leadership to dig deeper and think for yourself.

It’s a challenging time for all but the COVID-19 virus has been especially tough on the Latino community. Tell us your experience either personally or with the group or company you work with in dealing with the economic impact of the virus.

We are seeing a significant disparity in how COVID-19 is impacting our Latino community. Approximately 70% of people with COVID+ results are Latino and 24% of those, are children under age 17.

This is not a race/ethnicity issue, it is one of socioeconomics. Many Latino community members have low-paying service sector jobs that require them to work through the pandemic. Access to PPE can be difficult, and income levels can lead to crowded living arrangements with multiple families under one roof.

Our Latino community also faces a lack of access to health care which contributes to conditions such as higher rates of diabetes. Risk factors like these worsen the effect of a COVID-19 infection.

As a result, Kaiser Permanente Marin-Sonoma has provided $1M in investments since 2019 to improve the health and wellness of our Latino community.

We have increased our engagement with nonprofit partners working closely with our Latino community to better understand their needs.

We have also developed targeted education and outreach to our Latino members, and we continue to provide culturally competent care in order to bridge the gap between health and prevention.

As a community, we need to have a laser like focus on providing outreach, education, access and culturally appropriate services that mesh with the unique needs of our Latino population.

What are the lessons of this difficult year – including the COVID-19 virus, the economic downturn and the fires – for you and how has it changed your outlook for the future?

Many of us have dealt with loss beyond anything we expected. Loss of a home, a loved one due to COVID, a job, freedom to be outside, a favorite nature spot, etc. Sorrow can lead us down a path of bitterness or give us the opportunity to appreciate something deeper. My hope is we step back and see, deep down, we are more alike than different. This is a time to double down on valuing friendships and family.

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