Monday, April 9, 2007

Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford and The NY Academy of Medicine

The New York Academy of Medicine's annual gala
by Jaclyn Pare

City folk everywhere can sleep better knowing that Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford is on call. In her new role as president of the New York Academy of Medicine, this tireless physician and policy guru will oversee an urban-health think tank and outreach organization that for the past 160 years has focused on improving the well being of New Yorkers and city dwellers around the world. Some 400 members and friends of the city’s medical elite gathered at the Pierre Wednesday night to toast their new leader and the gala’s three honorees—philanthropist James Fordyce, who heads the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer Joseph Feczko, and GE vice chairman Bob Wright, who is leading a crusade to find a cure for autism.

Thomas Morris, Jo Ivey Boufford, and Bob Wright
The Academy could not have found a more qualified guardian of the public’s health. As president during the Koch administration of the city’s Health and Hospital Corp., the nation’s largest municipal hospital system, Dr. Boufford (“Jo” to her friends and fans) reveled in her role as the city’s family doctor. She was famous for dropping by the hospital unannounced at 3 a.m. to check up on her most vulnerable constituents—the urban poor and, in particular, its children. At a time when crack cocaine and HIV threatened a city on the brink of bankruptcy, she volunteered her Saturdays in one of the city’s walk-in clinics.

Hailed as “a visionary” and a “class act” by her peers, Boufford returns to New York with a resume the size of the Physician’s Desk Reference. A few highlights: She worked on national healthcare reform as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in the Clinton administration; she is a professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU, where she served as dean for five years; she was the U.S. representative on the executive board of the World Health Organization; and she is a senior advisor to the Gates and Rockefeller foundations on health policy and education around the world. Says Boufford: “I don’t take jobs unless I think the organization has the capacity to contribute to the public good.”

Reared by progressive parents in Atlanta, Boufford has a long history of  contributing to the public good, one that took root in medical school at the University of Michigan where she graduated with honors. “I wanted to know why we weren’t being given the opportunities to be more engaged in the community and work on broader societal issues,” she says. An activist ever since, she began her career in the South Bronx at the Montefiore Residency Program in Social Medicine. And for the next three decades, the 61-year-old, board-certified pediatrician has put her considerable energies into securing greater access to the healthcare system for the disadvantaged.
Joseph Feczko addresses the crowd
Boufford’s goal as president is to continue her role as activist, bringing the knowledge produced by the Academy directly to the public in a way that will help prevent urban scourges like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. “Her vision is to get us out into the community,” says development director Lorraine Lahuta. “She’s an implementer.”  That’s an ethos in keeping with the birth of the Academy, which was founded in 1847 before physicians were licensed.

Jo Ivey Boufford and Richard Daines
One of its first efforts was to address an outbreak of typhus spread by rats in New York City; another was to survey the living and health conditions of the poor. In 1928 the Academy issued a report that led to a drastic reduction in maternal mortality. And in the 1950s, it pushed to fluoridate the city’s drinking water.

Today, with an operating budget of $25 million and an active membership  of over 2,000 doctors, nurses, administrators, dentists, and social workers, the academy is still engaged in fighting disease, both through research and outreach. One of its crowning glories is its legendary library, which is open to the public. Housed on the second floor of the Academy’s headquarters, a grand 1926 mansion on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd street overlooking Central Park,  the library includes a collection of over 800,000 books, some of which date as far back as 1700 BC.

Boufford, a woman of petite frame and outsized ability, has taken the reins at a time when close to half the world’s population lives in urban areas and needs access to quality healthcare. By all accounts, she is entirely up to the task. “I have been in public life for over 30 years,” says former deputy mayor Stanley Brezenoff, now president of Continuum Health Partners. “Jo was the single best hire I ever made.”

The New York Academy of Medicine
James Fordyce, Joseph Feczko, Jo Ivey Boufford, Bob Wright, and Thomas Morris
Suzanne and Bob Wright
Damion Wicker and Jim Tallon
The Fordyce family
Jo Ivey Boufford and Bob Jones
Bruce Booth, Gerald Thompson, and Patricia Volland