Leadership and Vision
Elena Mendez-Escobar, PhD, MBA
Executive Director of Strategy and the Health Equity Accelerator.
Originally from Spain, Elena's passion is to right inequities and improve healthcare for underserved populations. At BMCHS, she oversees our Grayken Center for Addiction and co-leads building infrastructure to accelerate our portfolio of health equity work, including through the explicit lens of racial equity. She brings a multicultural perspective to all of her work to ensure that they are relevant to the populations her work addresses.
Prior to joining BMCHS, she was an associate partner at McKinsey where she helped states, health plans, and other organizations serving Medicaid populations, rethink strategy and transform operations. She also co-founded McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare, focused on underinvested areas of healthcare such as mental health, addiction, and social determinants of health.
Thea James, MD
Executive Director of the Health Equity Accelerator and Vice President of Mission & Associate Chief Medical Officer
As Vice President of Mission, Dr. James works with caregivers throughout BMC. Additionally, she has primary responsibility for coordinating and maximizing BMC’s relationships and strategic alliances with a wide range of local, state and national multi-sector organizations including community agencies, housing advocates, and others that partner with BMC. The goal is to foster innovative and effective new models of care that are essential for patients and communities to thrive and reach full potential. This includes focus on the intersections of health and wealth, economic mobility and other upstream drivers of predictable poor health outcomes. These care models are critical to operationalizing equity in the broadest sense.
In 2020-2021, Dr. James served on the Mayor’s Health Inequities Task Force for the City of Boston, to provide guidance on addressing inequities associated with the pandemic. She also served on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group. Dr. James served on Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine 2009-2012, where she served as chair of the Licensing Committee. She is Director of the Violence Intervention Advocacy Program at BMC and a founding member of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention. In 2011, she was appointed to Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.
Dr. James’ passion is Public Health both domestically and globally. For several years, she and colleagues worked with local partners in Haiti, and Africa, to implement sustainable healthcare models and ultrasound training. As a member of Equal Health, she was a visiting professor for the first class of Emergency Medicine residents in Haiti at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais and at St. Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs.
Dr. James served as a Supervising Medical Officer on the Boston Disaster Medical Assistance Team (MA-1 DMAT), under the Department of Health and Human Services. She has deployed to post 9/11 in NYC, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, Bam, Iran after the 2003 earthquake, and Port-Au-Prince Haiti after the earthquake of 2010. Dr. James traveled to Haiti with MA-1 DMAT one day after the 2010 earthquake.
She is a 2008 awardee of Boston Public Health Commission’s Mulligan Award for public service, and a 2012 recipient of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Role Model Award. She received The Boston Business Journal Healthcare Hero award in 2012 & 2015. She was a 2014 recipient of the Schwartz Center Compassionate Care Award. The Boston Chamber of Commerce awarded Dr. James with the Pinnacle Award in 2015, which honors women in business and the professions. She was a 2019 Massachusetts Public Health Association Health Equity Champion. In 2020, Dr. James received the American College of Emergency Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, The History Project presented her with a History Maker Award.
A graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine, James trained in Emergency Medicine at Boston City Hospital, where she was a chief resident.
Petrina Martin Cherry
Vice President of Community Engagement and External Affairs, BMC
Petrina Martin Cherry is a marketing and healthcare executive with over 25 years of experience specializing in marketing strategy, healthcare marketing and community program development and entertainment marketing. She is highly regarded as a consulting resource across multiple industries in healthcare equity and social determinates of health, diversity and inclusion and branding. In addition to her corporate relationships, Petrina previously spent 15 years in entertainment marketing and media training and is an expert at developing brand strategy for celebrities and non - profit organizations. She is currently the Vice President of Community Engagement and External Affairs at Boston Medical Center.
Petrina excels in helping brands create great ideas and bring them to life through integrated campaigns that leverage online, mobile and physical brand interactions. Clients and partners rely on her to help them compete more effectively on a global basis by creating and accelerating relationships with customers, employees, partners, media and other influencers. Petrina has also done significant advocacy work creating community based programs to bring awareness to Sickle Cell Disease, promote mental health and wellness in inner city communities, reduce recidivism and influence successful reentry and to build equity instead of charity in previously red-lined communities.
Petrina has shared her expertise on healthcare, building healthier communities, entertainment marketing, criminal justice reform, and building inclusive spaces on numerous panels and to business groups and associations. She was appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh in 2020 to the COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force and is on the board of trustees for The Urban League of Eastern MA (Emeritus), The Boys and Girls Club of Boston, Vice Chair of the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) Advisory Board, The advisory board of Arts Emerson at Emerson College, and is the Co-Chair of the Women’s Forum for the National Association of Healthcare Executives (NAHSE). She is an active member of The Links Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Inc. Petrina holds an Executive MBA from Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson School of Business.
Vision, Mission and Goals
Transform healthcare to deliver health justice and well-being.
The Health Equity Accelerator will propel health justice across areas that present the largest racial inequities.
Looking into the future looking into the future, we envision the Accelerator to have a demonstrable impact on racial health equity in five key areas:
- Pregnancy Equity
- Infectious Diseases
- Behavioral Health
- Chronic Conditions
- Oncology and ESRD
Our strategy is to enable four functions that normally work independently to work effectively in a collaborative and complementary manner:
- Clinical Operations
- Community & SDoH
- Research & Education
- Policy & Advocacy
The Health Equity Accelerator
With a mission to be more intentional, expeditious, and explicit in addressing health injustice, BMCHS launched the Health Equity Accelerator in fall 2021 after more than a year of research and development. The Accelerator will transform healthcare to deliver health justice and wellbeing with the goal of eliminating gaps in life expectancy and quality of life among groups of different races and ethnicities. With the Accelerator, BMCHS will work to advance racial health equity by breaking down barriers that limit our patients’ potential while simultaneously restructuring systems to meet patients’ needs.
After a deep review of Boston’s Community Health Needs Assessment as well as our own data, we have identified the following areas as those with the largest gaps in health outcomes among people of different races and ethnicities. We will focus our efforts on these five areas:
- Pregnancy Equity
- Infectious diseases
- Behavioral health
- Chronic conditions
- Oncology & end-stage renal disease (ESRD)
BMCHS’ Accelerator Equity Credentials
Health equity has been within our cultural DNA from day one and for many decades, we at BMCHS — comprising Boston Medical Center (BMC), Boston Accountable Care Organization (BACO), Boston Medical HealthNet Plan, Boston University Medical Group, and Boston HealthNet — have invested in addressing socioeconomic barriers and social determinants of health (SDoH) inequities in partnership with our communities.
Established in 1864, Boston City Hospital was the first municipal hospital in the United States. The hospital was "intended for the use and comfort of poor patients, to whom medical care will be provided at the expense of the city..." The hospital provided low-income Boston residents with medical care that they previously were unable to access. Since the 1996 merger between Boston City Hospital and Boston University Medical Center, BMC has continuously found new and innovative ways to care for the community and provide high quality and affordable healthcare. BMC’s foundational commitment to health equity work is also deeply embedded into the entire BMCHS.
The newly established Health Equity Accelerator will utilize this foundation, the skills we have developed, and the framework of goals that we will initiate, monitor, and measure to advance BMCHS' mission of equitable healthcare for all. Acting as the cornerstone of this work, the Accelerator will expedite, support, and set standards for racial health equity across the health system with the goal of transforming health care to deliver health justice and wellbeing.
The Accelerator Origins
When times are at their worst, we find ways to be at our best. COVID-19 put a spotlight on the health inequities that exist in society and at the same time it opened a door to new approaches and new thinking that would not have been possible under normal conditions. This extremely challenging situation showed us that we can move quickly on initiatives when we have the right people, the right focus, and the right relationships working in concert with one another. This learning, combined with BMC's deep history in working to close the gap in health equity is the inspiration for the Health Equity Accelerator.