Impact Snapshot: “We Gain Strength by Joining Together”

Lito Gutierrez

As we celebrate the Health Foundation’s 20th year on the path toward health equity, we are sharing the stories of our grantees, fellows, trustees, and other partners and the impact they have made on the community’s health over two decades.

Angel “Lito” Gutierrez, MD, has had an interesting view of the Health Foundation’s impact. As a physician who served communities in western New York’s Southern Tier, Dr. Gutierrez saw firsthand how issues like poverty or health care access can have an impact on people’s lives. Because of that expertise and experience, he was recruited to the Health Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2004 by some of the organization’s founding members.

“I had known people associated with Health Care Plan from the first years I came to Buffalo in 1967 – it was then that I met [founding trustees] Ed Marine, Jim Nolan, and Art Goshin and others,” said Dr. Gutierrez, referring to one of the health plans whose merger formed the basis for the Health Foundation. “They reached out to me about joining the Health Foundation a few years after the ‘pioneers’ had met to define the mission and vision of the organization and the focus areas of children impacted by poverty and older adults.”

Dr. Gutierrez served on the board for nine years and was elected board chair in 2011. During that time, he saw the Health Foundation develop from its earliest stages to become a trusted community partner dedicated to making a difference.

“In the early years after the Foundation was created, there was an educational time where we needed to learn about ourselves as an organization, and we needed to learn about the community,” said Dr. Gutierrez. “As we went through that time and became more and more recognized by the community, our work began to build and grow and develop.”

For Dr. Gutierrez, serving as a trustee was the opportunity to widen his view on health care, especially by seeing the impact of programs like Step Up to Stop Falls, an extensive program launched in 2007 to help mitigate the risks of falls for older adults living at home.

“As a physician, my relationship with the patient was at the bedside—one-to-one,” said Dr. Gutierrez. “Working with the Health Foundation, I gained that community perspective. How can we work with a neighborhood to improve lives or prevent falls in that particular neighborhood? I think that’s an approach that makes the Health Foundation distinct.”

Dr. Gutierrez sees the Health Foundation’s long-term impact as rooted in our commitment to fostering learning and collaboration.

“When you have an entity like the Health Foundation that has a very specific focus, we can help break down silos and isolation among the organizations that work in these areas,” he said. “We can bring people and organizations together to understand how all of us can gain strength by joining together to work on a need in the community.”