When Daisy L. Harris, President and CEO of West End Medical Center (WEMC) in Atlanta, GA, closes her office door for the last time this summer, there will be tears and memories of a career spanning 32 years of service. But, there also will be well-deserved pride helping to build and serving at the helm of one of the strongest and most progressive health centers in the nation.
As a leader in the Health Center Movement, Harris' dedicated work has been an inspiration. Reaching deep into Atlanta’s poor, blighted and neglected neighborhoods, she has shown the value of a primary care medical home and what it delivers in hope and promise for people and communities in need.
Like many who have come to serve community health centers, Harris was first enlisted as a Board Member at WEMC. She was asked to volunteer and give of her expertise and skills to help a struggling, small center stay alive and remain viable. She did her work well, helping the board formulate a strategic plan of action to address problems, and it was only within a matter of months that a grateful board prevailed upon her to accept appointment to the position of Executive Director.
Through her vision and steadfast determination, WEMC has grown from a small health center with 15 staff and one physician into a dynamic health care facility with a $10 million dollar budget, supported by as many as 100 employees. The center, with its five sites, offers the complete array of primary care specialties and programs serving diverse community needs and generating more than 53,000 patient visits annually. Services include dental as well as behavioral health, and it was one the first health centers in the nation to respond to the health needs of public housing residents – establishing public housing satellites that have received recognition as best practice models.
A good part of Harris’ success in addressing challenges commonly faced by health center CEOs – such as capital needs, budget cutbacks, and the need for updated facilities and more space – is in the partnerships she has nurtured and established with community stakeholders.
As Tom Van Coverden, NACHC President and CEO noted, “From day one – Daisy has been out in the community, meeting with people and garnering respect and support for her health center from businesses, hospitals, foundations and others. She has built a strong base of partnership for her health center and it has paid off immensely in both public and private support.” As an example of her leadership, WEMC in 1999 moved into a new 41,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility which was supported through a $1.6 million federal Capital Improvement Grant, along with a $2.5 million charitable donation from Tenet Hospital Corporation and bonds issued by the city of Atlanta.
Over the years Harris has assembled a top-rated staff and a board committed to looking strategically to the future. She has created a workplace where ideas, new thinking, and collaboration are valued in bringing forward new approaches in health care delivery that improve health and solve problems.
One unique program established at the center is targeted to the Sub-Saharan African population residing in the Atlanta community. Initially funded as a demonstration project by the federal Office of Minority Health, the health center has engaged translators and even a physician trained in the Congo to extend culturally appropriate care and provide a much-needed safety net for a special population desperately in need of health care.
Harris’ success in partnership development has enabled the center’s participation in many programs and research opportunities that benefit the community. West End, for example, serves as a clinical practice site as a part of the Morehouse School of Medicine’s Pediatric Residency Program. The university presented her this year with a Doctorate of Human Letters.
It can be said that Daisy Harris’ advocacy for the poor and medically underserved reached beyond her own city and state’s borders. She has worked tirelessly as a part of the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Georgia Association for Primary Health Care, the latter which she was instrumental in founding.
“We will greatly miss Daisy’s leadership,” Van Coverden says. “But, she leaves with the respect, admiration, and gratitude not only of the local community and the beloved center she has served so well, but the entire Community Health Center family. We take heart that she will remain a close and cherished friend – and one whose voice will continue to ring out for the public good.”
Daisy L. Harris holds a BA degree from Livingston College, (NC) and a MA degree from Atlanta University (GA). She has held the post of adjunct professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine for the past 15 years and also serves on the boards of the Atlanta Medical Center (TENET ), the Atlanta Community Access Coalition (ACAC), and the Atlanta Regional Health Forum (AR HF). She has been recognized for her leadership and commitment throughout her long career at national, state and local levels. Among her many awards:
- Georgia General Assembly – Recognition in 2000 as 'an invaluable contributor to health care in Georgia'
- The National Healthcare for Residents of Public Housing Award
- The Healthy Mothers & Healthy Babies Partnership Award
- The Southern Community Cancer Cohort Dedicated Service Award
- Named by the Atlanta Business League as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Women in Atlanta
- 2007 Dale S. Chapman Administrator of the Year Award, Georgia Association for Primary Health Care
- 2009 Curtis V. Cooper Excellence in Leadership Award, National Association of Community Health Centers