Jamaica Plain resident Dr. Barbara Ferrer will step down from her position as executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) next month. She has served as executive director of BPHC since 2007.
During a Gazette interview last week, she said her favorite achievement during her 13-year tenure at BPHC was aggressively tackling health inequity in Boston, specifically on chlamydia, obesity and child mortality rates.
Narrowing the gap between white and back populations facing those issues “meant lots and lots of people doing very difficult work,” she said.
“We’re really proud that we’ve identified places where we could work to close the gap. And we’re starting to see that gap close,” Ferrer said.
“How is it possible, in a city like Boston with world-class hospitals and teaching facilities, and near-universal health coverage, how is it possible that black residents live less years than whites and face higher rates of disease?” she said. “It’s not linked to personal choices.”
Her team had to focus on the conditions in which people live their lives and what are the conditions that promote good health.
“We’ve done a lot of training. It’s a big system change, and a lot of credit goes to the people in that system who can pivot and shift,” she said.
“The most important thing now is creating the conditions through which the residents, workers and guests of the city will have resources they need for optimal health,” she said.
Ferrer will be leaving government service and her 33-year JP residence for a position as chief strategy officer with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich. The foundation is a charitable fund, founded by the famed cereal company tycoon, that frequently funds health work.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet, but it’s an opportunity to work at the national level and with brilliant people at the Kellogg Foundation,” she said. “I’m really sad to leave JP. I’ve been here a long time, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I’m passionate about Boston and JP.”
A formal search committee will be established following Ferrer’s departure on Oct. 3. The committee, co-chaired by BPHC Chair, Paula Johnson, and Howard Koh, will be composed of BPHC Board members as well as non-board members. During the search process, Huy Nguyen, medical director for the Commission, will serve as interim executive director.