October 24, 2016
Focus: Outstanding women in business

Antonia G. McGuire: Providing access to health care for all

Antonia G. McGuire, president and CEO at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester, was fresh out of high school and working at a hospital when she realized the healthcare field was for her. As a cardiac monitor technician, she worked across hospital departments – everywhere from coronary care to the intensive care unit – and saw patients in their most vulnerable moments.

Seeing people in critical condition made her want to delve into what could have been done to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

"I saw people at the worst possible moments of their health. It put a fire in me to figure out how I could begin to work with them so they never got into the position to begin with," she said.

Over the course of her 30 year career, McGuire has made a difference in community health, both here in Massachusetts and across the country. A registered nurse with a master's degree in public health, McGuire has held healthcare leadership roles in Rhode Island, Missouri, Massachusetts and more. In her role as president and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester, she is responsible for the direction of an organization that provides health care to people, regardless of their ability to pay.

"Very often the health center has the ability to take care of people who may fall through the cracks at larger institutions," she said. "Culturally, we know where patients come from and how we can work to make sure we acknowledge different cultures and language differences."

Creating a healthy community

McGuire realized early in her nursing career that there's a lot more to health care than just writing a prescription and sending people on their way. That partially came from a nursing job at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket, where she worked in maternal health. Working with sick infants and mothers made her realize how people's economic and housing status influences their health.

She helped establish the Blackstone Valley Perinatal Network, which brought together a group of healthcare organizations across different specialties to help treat pregnant women. Working with everyone from social service agencies to behavioral health providers to schools deepened her understanding of comprehensive health care.

"Other pieces began to fall into place, as to what really creates a healthy community," she said.

She was part of the team that helped launch the first-ever Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center. She worked there for five years but knew she wanted to get back to community health centers. She joined the Kennedy CHC in 2008, when it was known as Great Brook Valley Health Center, from the Manet Community Health Center in Quincy.

Embracing Obamacare

When she came onboard, the Kennedy CHC was undergoing a pretty significant transformation, said Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham, chair of the health center's board. The center had just expanded into Framingham and was in the midst of a strategic planning process. McGuire was instrumental in helping the board lead a community-need assessment, to identify what other areas they should expand to. It was with her help that the Kennedy CHC was able to open up in Milford, through a partnership with Milford Regional Medical Center.

"She's a strong visionary, has built a strong team and has been very capable and competent as to how she has helped the staff execute the strategic plan," Zolezzi-Wyndham said.

McGuire took her vision and communicated it effectively to her staff, which is a critical skill for a CEO, Zolezzi-Wyndham said.

"She has a vision that is informed by what is happening at the federal level in the healthcare marketplace and is able to communicate that vision to her very strong leadership team, so they can move the health center into this changing healthcare landscape," she said. "But she does so in a way that is very inviting and inclusive of her team."

Seeing the Affordable Care Act get passed was something McGuire said she had hoped to see in her lifetime. The law helped set the country on the right trajectory, she said.

"To me the next step is seeing people embrace it, because there's greater access than there was 10 years ago. Looking at that from a provider perspective, that's remarkable," she said. "To me, it's about service. It's about personal success and seeing systems improve so patients have better access to care."

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Read about the judges for this year's awards.

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