After more than four decades championing the cause of community-based health care centers that annually serve over 1 million Massachusetts residents, James W. Hunt, Jr., PhD, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers (the League) on October 22 announced plans to retire at the end of December, serving in an emeritus role through June 2021.
In determining his successor, Hunt and the League's Board of Directors established a deliberative succession plan that prioritized a new leader with close ties to the communities health centers serve, and who possesses the skills, passion and commitment necessary to lead the organization into the future. Michael Curry, Esq., currently the League’s deputy CEO & general counsel, has been named the next president and CEO.
“Jim Hunt is the chief architect of some of the most important health policy, regulatory and funding initiatives impacting the Commonwealth’s most underserved and under-resourced communities over the last five decades,” said Elizabeth Browne, League board chair and CEO of Charles River Community Health in Brighton and Waltham. “From advocating for the role of health centers during state and national discussions on health reform to considering hyper local community needs, Jim has had an immeasurable impact.”
In the 40-plus years Hunt has steered the state’s health centers, they have become essential to reducing health disparities among communities of color and relied upon by the state to expand access to quality, cost-effective primary care to communities historically denied access to care. Community health centers are now found in every corner of the Commonwealth: helping patients better manage their asthma or diabetes; reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through better health outcomes; assisting residents with enrolling in health insurance programs; addressing food and housing insecurity; or providing employment and job training for local individuals.
During the pandemic, Hunt secured state and federal financial relief to stem revenue losses at health centers allowing them to remain open, treat patients and relieve pressure on hospital emergency rooms. He worked in partnership with the COVID-19 Response Command Center to stand up more than 40 COVID-19 testing sites serving close to 120 communities hardest hit by the virus since March. He also mobilized a workforce of 300 health center employees to assist the Commonwealth in contact tracing efforts.
“Jim Hunt’s advocacy on the behalf of community health centers changed the history of how health care is delivered in this country. His name may not be a household word, but his work has given millions of Americans a better life,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who championed the expansion of health centers throughout the country.
“If you walk into any community health center in Massachusetts, you can feel Jim Hunt’s presence. That is because he has secured their funding, nurtured their leaders, provided capital for their buildings, and worked with their community boards and patients,” said Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Community health centers refer to their field as a ‘movement.’ For decades, Jim has led that movement, in Massachusetts and nationally.”
Curry, Hunt’s successor, is no stranger to the community health center mission and its operations; he grew up receiving care at two Boston health centers. He worked for 16 years at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts and served on the health care transition teams for Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Marty Walsh; and was involved in the passage of Massachusetts Health Reform and the federal Affordable Care Act. Curry joined the League in 2008, serving as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy and most recently as Deputy CEO and General Counsel.
“In considering our options for a successor to Jim, we quickly realized it was not necessary to look far afield,” said Elizabeth Browne. “We have long known that Michael’s contributions to the organization are many and valuable, and Jim had the foresight to assure that Michael had every opportunity to grow in his role. In naming Michael as our next CEO, we are assuring not only a seamless transition, but an opportunity for fresh thinking and new ideas at a time of great change and challenge across all aspects of our healthcare infrastructure.”
Among service on several boards, Curry is the past president of the Boston Branch of the NAACP (2011-2016) and has over twenty years of dedicated service to the NAACP on the city, state-area conference and national levels.
“Michael is uniquely positioned to lead health centers through the next phase of health reform with an even more intentional focus on health equity,” said Hunt. “He is an outstanding leader and visionary who will expand upon the League’s local, state and national partnerships to dismantle structural racism and eliminate health disparities.”
“Jim has left an indelible mark on healthcare and invested in a pipeline of community health center leaders who are deeply vested in the mission and challenges before us,” said Michael Curry. “I’m thankful to have served under his leadership and with his mentorship.”