On a Monday morning in October, a health clinic on Whittier Boulevard in Boyle Heights is as busy as to be expected; a mix of families and individuals of all ages wait patiently to receive dental or medical care. Mothers are comforting fussy babies in strollers, a few toddlers run about the aisles, and other folks have cell phones in hand or chatting to pass the time. Conversations happen in English and in Spanish while educational programs run on the overhead television.
By Teena Apeles
This scene is likely playing out at the 51 other clinics of AltaMed Health Services Corporation, which serves more than 300,000 Southern California residents from working-class communities, but what’s different about this picture is a less common sight at your usual doctor’s office or urgent clinic: the reception area is bedecked with pink furry boas and large, exquisite, handmade roses made of paper to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In fact, it is at all of AltaMed’s facilities. This sight is by design, thanks to the directives of the corporate office. The message coming from the top is loud and clear: wearing a pink ribbon isn’t enough. Add to that the fact that through October, AltaMed clinics are giving gift bags to women who have their mammograms done there, and you start to get the feeling that being responsible about your health can actually be something to celebrate versus dread.
And once clients pass through the doors to reach the treatment rooms, a man named Julian Bermudez oversees what AltaMed wants them to experience next. His job is unique, important and, quite frankly, unusual. Most healthcare providers that serve this particular population — made up of primarily Latinos, as well as those of African and Asian descent, who are uninsured or underinsured — don’t have someone like him on staff: a curator.
He ensures that the uplifting mood of the clinic doesn’t end with the brightly painted walls or seasonal decorations by its staff. Bermudez, who has worked at many local galleries and museums and has his own acclaimed gallery in Cypress Park, works with AltaMed’s CEO of four decades, Cástulo de la Rocha, whom he meets with every day to discuss the artwork in the AltaMed Art Collection: what gets placed in each facility, what to acquire next, what museums or galleries are requesting loans.