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New head of Dorchester House cut teeth as Kennedy aide

Posted by Emily Files  November 8, 2012 02:20 PM

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As a student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, Walter J. Ramos spent three years working for the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, starting as a volunteer in his presidential campaign and working his way up to special assistant.

Today, more than 30 years later, Ramos, 50, credits Kennedy with being “my biggest mentor.”

“His mantra always was ‘a person’s health should never depend upon a person’s wealth,’ ” Ramos recalled. “I think that the work that I have done throughout my career … reflects that.”

On Nov. 26, Ramos will replace Joel Abrams as president and chief executive officer of the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, a community health center that offers a range of medical services including primary care, dental care, and eye care. It also offers after-school programs for teen-agers and other social service programs.

Ramos said that while Kennedy left a legacy “for everyone who worked for him,” it was the senator’s commitment to health care that remains his legacy for the country.

Ramos’ own career has led him to work in a variety of policy areas largely focused on urban environments. But none took him far from health care.

In 1983, he left Kennedy’s staff to work as an economic development aide for Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Communities and Development. In 1985 he was hired as an economic development aide and a policy analyst to then-Governor Michael Dukakis. There, Ramos provided analysis for the use of funds for such programs as community development block grants and urban development action grants. These, he said, were often used to fund health care facilities and community health centers.

Ramos made the transition from policy analyst to a health care administrator when he was hired as director of administration for the Boston Public Health Commission in 1998. In 2007, he was named the Boston Medical Center’s chief administrator for its HealthNet plan, a Medicaid managed-care organization, Dorchester House noted in its press release announcing his appointment. For the past decade, he’s also served as the vice president of operations for the Massachusetts Hospital Association, a position that will end Nov. 23.

“Walter is an experienced and dedicated health care leader,” said Lynn Nicholas, president and CEO of the MHA said in a statement released by MHA. “In his tenure at MHA he has contributed greatly to our association in numerous ways relative to strengthening our operational capacity. His accomplishments at MHA and his impressive background leave me no doubt he will bring a similar level of growth and success to Dorchester House.”

Ramos said he was drawn to Dorchester House because he believes community health centers will be a cornerstone of health care in the future and because Dorchester House offers such a wide range of services, including recreational facilities such as a pool and a gymnasium.

“I really feel that community health centers are the future,” Ramos said. “As health care is changing rapidly, community health centers offer that medical home for people, with great care, whether it’s eye care, it’s dental care, it’s primary physician care. Dorchester House has it all.”

Ramos said that it’s important that Dorchester House maintain the quality of care it provides to the Dorchester community.

“I think the one thing we have understood in Massachusetts is that providing the full gambit of healthcare for everyone, regardless of their income, and providing quality health care is important for a whole variety of reasons,” Ramos said. “Doing preventative care and regular care is an advantage for everyone in the community, and I think that Dorchester House will continue to provide that.”

Ramos said that while filling Abrams shoes will be challenging, he has a good team to rely on.

“Joel Abrams has done a magnificent job and they are certainly large shoes to fill,” Ramos said. “But I think the important thing for people to know is that the quality of care that they have been known to get from Dorchester House under Joel Abrams leadership will continue. The senior management team and the providers who have been there for many, many years, that team remains, and so there will be stability.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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