March 3rd marks four years since the passing of Health Care For All’s (HCFA) long-time executive director, Rob Restuccia. As I look at the 27 current staff members here at HCFA, there are only a handful of us who knew Rob well. Yet as I watch our staff every day, I see Rob’s legacy in all that they do.
I see HCFA staff who are directly helping and listening to individuals struggling to enroll in health care coverage. The HCFA HelpLine started decades ago under Rob’s leadership when staff and volunteers took calls in an ad hoc manner, trying to help in any way they could. Today’s HelpLine is a staff of eight taking close to 25,000 calls a year in five languages. What the counselors hear on the phones drives our policy work. Counselors share insights about what residents are experiencing in real time so we can try to address these issues whether it’s challenges making appointments with behavioral health care providers, paying medical debt or affording life-saving medications.
I see HCFA staff who are deeply committed to helping all the residents of the Commonwealth access and afford the health care they need. Rob’s vision helped pave the way for health reform here in Massachusetts and nationally with the Affordable Care Act. His belief that health care is a fundamental right for everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, physical and intellectual abilities, gender identity – drives HCFA’s work to this day. Whether it is working to ensure that every child can access MassHealth regardless of immigration status or that every birthing person has the postpartum care they deserve, the HCFA team works tirelessly to make these changes in our state.
I see HCFA staff partnering with community- and faith-based organizations by bringing resources into the community and listening to organizational leaders talk about how to guide the work. Rob always understood, and instilled in the HCFA ethos, that people from the community best understand needs and how to address them. Whether it is supporting community groups striving to increase the Covid-19 vaccination rate or helping MassHealth residents stay covered as the federal Medicaid enrollment protections end this spring, community leaders best understand how to connect with their neighbors. HCFA is there to support this work.
And finally, I see HCFA staff prioritizing health equity in all that we do. Many, many years ago Rob talked about centering health equity in our work before it was a topic that widely discussed. For the past two and a half years, HCFA staff participate in monthly, staff-led Racial Justice Talking Circle sessions on topics like white saviorism, cultural humility, tokenism and much more. We do this to study, learn and center issues around race in our direct service, community engagement and policy work.
I worked with Rob for close to 15 years. He was an incredible leader, an invaluable mentor, an effective advocate, a compassionate colleague and a wonderful human being. I miss his physical presence every day but feel grateful that his values, his vision and his beliefs live on in the staff of HCFA. I hope you will join me today – whether you knew him first-hand or not – in remembering Rob’s legacy.
Amy Rosenthal is HCFA’s Executive Director, as well as a longtime friend and mentee of Rob Restuccia.