Frederica M. Williams: On Expanding a Legacy and Health Facility

Nakia Hill
Spare Change News

Dressed in a two-piece suit and pumps, Frederica M. Williams, President and CEO of Whittier Street Health Center, is making her mark on health care in Roxbury. Williams is contributing to a legacy that her beloved father asked her to carry out before he passed away from diabetes.

“My father instilled in me the belief that I can do anything I put my mind to,” said Williams.

Frederica Williams has broken down barriers and dismissed stereotypes often placed upon women in leadership positions. Williams says that there were doubts about her ability to construct a state-of-the-art health care facility from the ground up in the heart of Roxbury, but she did it.

“The challenge for me is, some of the people who said no were people in corporations that were investing in their corporations. I felt that because I was trying to do something in a low-income community that people were not as excited as they would be if I was looking to build a project in a wealthy community,” said Williams.

Over the years, there have been plenty of misconceptions thrown at her because of her gender and role as CEO/President. Whether it was the perception that women were more emotional than men, or the notion that it is “unladylike” to be assertive, stereotypes threatened to wear her down, but they didn’t succeed.

“Every step of the way as a woman you have to be very careful because there are different labels for us. I’m very assertive, but it’s not about my emotions, it’s not about my mood swings, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s about the task at hand,” said Williams. She continued, “I would not be human if I did not say it attempted to wear me down, but I had my mother who would pick me up. I’m also a woman of faith. I strongly believe that I’m here for a purpose. I don’t expect it to be easy. Matter of fact, the challenges are what make me disciplined because when people are out there saying she can’t do it or that this cannot be done that for me helps build humility.”

Williams has proven that she is the woman for the job. Ten years have passed since Williams transitioned from her position as Vice President at Dimock Community Health Center to President and CEO at Whittier Street. WSHC was one of 49 health centers in the nation that benefited from the federal funds from the Obama administrations stimulus package, which created 450 construction jobs and 50 permanent full-time jobs at the clinic itself. Many people doubted her ability to reconstruct a health center in two years, but she accomplished it in 18 months.

WSHC has gone from serving 5,000 people to now serving almost 19,000 patients. Their budget has tripled and they’ve expanded their programs. “We’ve expanded our urgent care clinic, so people that are unnecessarily using emergency rooms can come to us for immediate access and we can link them to primary care,” said Williams.

At its new state-of-the-art health facility, 47 percent of patients that WSHC serves are men, which is the highest percentage of male patients served at any community health center in the country. WSHC also boasts a nationally recognized program for asthma, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and recently developed a first-of-its-kind community-based cancer clinic in partnership with Dana Farber.

Behind the sophisticated exterior and business mindset is a woman who can relate to her patients more than they could ever fathom. When Williams was a freshman in college she became pregnant with her first child. She was faced with the hardships of being a teen parent, a role that many of her patients play today. She says, “A role as a CEO doesn’t define who I am. What defines who I am is [the role of being] a parent.”

Three children and a difficult divorce later, Williams has obtained her MBA, holds two presidential positions on her resume, and stands a woman who truly cares for her community. She believes her patients are more than deserving of top quality, accessible and affordable health care.

“I use my entrepreneurial skills and my social justice mission to build programs that meet the needs of the community and to use my business skills to strengthen the organization, so we can become an investment in the community,” said Williams.

It’s only the beginning for WSHC, and Frederica Williams says her work is not complete yet, but so far she is proud of the work she has accomplished. Seventy percent of her staff hails from the Roxbury community and her staff speaks a combined 20 languages. Whittier plans to expand the health center’s capacity from its current 60,000 patient visits to 103,000 patient visits by 2015.

“To me, this is only the beginning of my legacy. The last 10 years was just a preparation for my legacy, now is the time to do some things in addition to what we’ve already done.”

NAKIA HILL writes for Spare Change News.

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