Tue | Jan 15, 2019

Jamaican health-care pioneer

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
One of the MHHC facilities.
Verona Greenland

Dave Rodney,Contributor

Thirty-two years ago, Verona Greenland had a big dream. She desperately wanted to find a way to bring health-care services to Morris Heights in the Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the United States.

Back then, as a young health-care professional and a recent graduate of Columbia University and the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at University of California, Los Angeles, she discovered that a large number of the residents in Morris Heights were either being punished or ignored in the health-care system because they were uninsured or underinsured. Passionate and determined, the St Mary-born Jamaican was adamant about fixing this.

Today, she is the founder, president and CEO of Morris Heights Health Center (MHHC) in New York.

Greenland's personality is anchored in confidence, and this trait becomes abundantly clear after speaking with her for just a few moments. This health-care dynamo, who initially wanted to become a ballerina but was dissuaded by her grandmother, opened her first health-care centre with a modest grant of US$25,000. She offered quality care at a lower cost than what was being offered elsewhere, and was inspired to do this partly because of the challenges that she saw midwives face in rural Jamaica, delivering children despite trying circumstances like floods and hurricanes.

Owing to sheer determination, perseverance, and a little help from friends, federal and state governments, the number of health-care centres has now grown to six, spreading out all across the Bronx area. She transformed a cramped, run-down storefront into a world-class medical group. A US$50 million facility was opened a few years ago, and the most recent addition at 233 Street will serve northern Bronx and the Mount Vernon area.

"I have mixed feelings about what I have been able to accomplish here at MHHC," Greenland told Outlook calmly. "I have touched thousands of lives, but there is always this yearning to do more," she continued.

Greenland's operational style is superefficiency alongside humility, and her effectiveness as a seasoned and successful health-care management executive has earned her more than enough awards to fill a gallery. She left Jamaica when she was seven years old and she is acclaimed as one of the 25 most influential women in the Bronx. She has served on Governor Mario Cuomo's task force on nutrition for the state of New York, and she sits on several city boards for the advancement of health-care delivery in New York.

Jamaica is very much on her radar, too, and two years ago, she explored the opportunity to create a community health centre on the island, but unfortunately, the project did not yield the desired results. She is, however, hopeful that, at some future point, she will be able to use her considerable skills to collaborate with her homeland.


For National Health Centre Week (August 10-16), MHHC will take their services to the streets by hosting an exciting, free Health Care Festival and Fun Day on Saturday, August 16, from 10 a.m to 4 p.m, at their newest Bronx facility at 825 East 233 Street.

The Saturday daytime Bronx party promises to sizzle with a range of invigorating activities for all ages. On the medical side, the health centre plans to grab the attention of residents who normally don't pay attention to health-related issues by utilising popular culture as a magnet. The facility will be offering free screenings for a number of health issues, including HIV, blood pressure and glucose, and medical professionals will be on hand to offer guidance and information to attendees who have questions and concerns.

A huge magnet for the day's activity will be a rousing live performance by dancehall pioneer, veteran Lieutenant Stitchie. The first dancehall artiste to be signed by Atlantic Records, over the years, Stitchie has enjoyed a dazzling career in both dancehall and gospel music. He has churned out a barrage of hits, including Wear Yu Size, Natty Dread, Big Broad Hips, Night & Day, Bun It Dung, Dress To Impress, among many others.

But there is a lot more simmering in the MHHC Festival and Fun Day pot. There will be loads of cool fun stuff too, that will be simply too good to miss - free hair-cuts, face painting, a rising stars competition, a dance contest, music, food, ice cream for the kids, and giveaways. A number of New York City radio stations will also broadcast live from the event. Residents of nearby communities are urged to come out early to make the most of the day.

MHHC has a heritage of providing first-class health care for the Jamaican, Caribbean American, Hispanic and African communities in the Bronx for more than 30 years. MHHC is continuing that outstanding and impeccable tradition as it expands and grows.

For more, go to www.mhhc.com.