In observance of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, NACHC is conducting interviews with leaders in the health center movement. Teresita Batayola is president and CEO of International Community Health Services (ICHS) based in Seattle, WA. ICHS medical, dental and vision clinics are located throughout the Seattle region. In addition, ICHS operates a Mobile Dental Clinic; senior care programs at ICHS Legacy House and Bush Asia Center; a primary care clinic for clients of Asian Counseling and Referral Service; and school-based health clinics for students at Seattle World School and Highland Middle School.
NACHC: What was your path to the health center field?
Teresita Batayola: Public service was always a part of my core values, having grown up with parents who did a lot of civic and church volunteering. I have a deep professional background in government while being voluntarily engaged with issues affecting communities of color, especially the Asian Pacific Islander community, and women. Opportunities open up in mysterious ways. I slowed down my public career when my daughters were in middle school and my father was seriously ill. During that window, I eagerly jumped at the chance to do strategic planning for International Community Health Services (ICHS). Decades ago, I had volunteered on a research project to fund the struggling effort to open a storefront clinic in Seattle’s International District, which eventually became ICHS. To have been able to help them evolve and grow into their next level of impact was a rare privilege. I eventually rejoined city government, but I was hooked. Six months later, I was lured back to ICHS. And I’m still here.
NACHC: What are some of the challenges you have faced as an Asian American woman in your life and career?
Batayola: I hit the glass ceiling a number of times in government — “I was too good at my job.” “I had young kids.” “I was too outspoken.” When a couple of opportunities came to head a major department, they were not departments that excited me, and I felt they wanted a “token” to demonstrate diversity at the top. Choosing community health, where my values, skills and leadership converged with the organization and its populations is an amazing gift.
NACHC: What gets you up in the morning after this difficult year?
Batayola: The driving force is our communities need us. I draw strength from our team. ICHS has deeply committed staff who truly cares about our patients. Most of our staff have first-hand experiences of what it means to struggle and go without health care, especially when language and culture are insurmountable barriers.
NACHC: What must we do to ensure better health equity for Asian Pacific populations?
Batayola: First, Asian Pacific populations are not one. The rich mix of origins, culture, heritage, languages and even religion are different in each region. There has to be a concerted effort to know and understand the different groups you serve. Second, the use of data and its disaggregation is crucial to addressing health and social determinants of health. Various diseases affect different segments of the Asian Pacific populations. Third, is the need to have linguistically and culturally competent high-quality care. Easier to say than to actually carry out.