From his start as a 14-year-old medical student in Nigeria to his current post as head of one of the nation’s largest health systems — with more than 200 locations in the Lower Hudson Valley and the Bronx — Dr. Philip O. Ozuah is nothing if not inspirational. We sat down with the president/CEO of Montefiore Medicine recently to learn more about him and get his take on the state of healthcare in our region.
My Montefiore career started in the summer of 1989, as an intern recently arrived from Nigeria. I spent the first 18 years as a community physician in the South Bronx. Fifteen years in, I became a full professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, physician-in-chief of the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, and the university chairman at the medical school. In 2012, I became chief operating officer for the entire system, and seven years after that, was appointed the CEO.
My goal is to provide the residents of Westchester with the full benefits of the Montefiore Health System, to ensure that they receive the best quality of care, the best patient experience, and the best outcomes — at the best possible value. I want people to know that we are here for them, that the full weight of our knowledge and experience as a world-class academic healthcare system is available to them at all times.
COVID literally blew up the landscape. It changed everything, almost overnight. We went from two COVID-19 patients on March 11 to more than 2,000 one month later. Now, [nearly one year later], the battle continues. The vaccines [are here], and we know so much more about the virus and how to treat it. We also know the pandemic exposed an underlying public healthcare crisis: the poverty, substandard housing, and other factors — what we call the social determinants of health — that can leave entire communities more vulnerable to multiple diseases, including COVID. As the pandemic recedes, we must come up with strategies to address the systemic inequities that plague our poor and minority communities.
“If we as citizens can address the virus of social inequity with the same selfless determination and courage we have brought to bear on the coronavirus, I dare to hope that we can finally prove the true strength of our shared humanity.”
—Philip O. Ozuah, MD, President & CEO, Montefiore Medicine
Westchester is a vibrant, thriving, diverse community that has been battered by this pandemic. But, as I have seen firsthand, COVID-19 has also brought out the strength and compassion of its people. I believe that positive energy and shared community spirit, the lessons we’ve learned about working together to defeat this terrible foe, will carry us through and drive our recovery.
Every generation, if it is lucky, is called upon to make enormous sacrifices and serve a greater purpose. Meeting the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic is just such a calling. So, I say to young people, embrace the challenge. Stay strong, stay vigilant, stay positive. Take care of yourself and find ways to help your family and your community. Find ways to help the world emerge as a better place than you found it.
I see lots of positives in the way we rallied as a nation and changed our behaviors in profound ways to combat the coronavirus. If we as citizens can address the virus of social inequity with the same selfless determination and courage we have brought to bear on the coronavirus, I dare to hope that we can finally prove the true strength of our shared humanity.