Project Title

Luminary and Emerging Innovator Awards

Priority Area


Date Awarded

October 20, 2016





To mark our 10-year anniversary in 2016, we created two special awards programs to recognize a total of 10 influential organizations and/or leaders working to improve health in New York State: Luminary Awards and Emerging Innovator Awards.

Luminary Awards

The Luminaries, all previous NYHealth grantees, represent a cross-section of leaders throughout the State who have made extraordinary contributions to improve the health of New Yorkers over the last 10 years. Each of the award recipients, selected by an external panel of judges, has demonstrated commitment to the community, effective efforts to develop diverse partnerships, creative problem-solving, policy savvy, and tenacity in their work. We selected 5 Luminaries to receive awards of $5,000 made to the nonprofit organizations that employ them. James R. Knickman, Ph.D., former NYHealth President and CEO and current Robert Derzon Chair in Health and Public Service at New York University, who served as head judge for the Luminary Awards, announced the recipients at our anniversary event on October 20, 2016.

Elisabeth Benjamin
Community Service Society of New York

Elisabeth Benjamin is one of the most tenacious, energetic, and effective consumer voices on health insurance policy, advocacy, and enrollment. As a co-founder of Health Care for All New York (HCFANY), she has worked with 170 consumer groups across the State to expand the eligibility and scope of New York’s child health insurance program, inform the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the adoption of a strong marketplace in New York, and ensure consumer protections such as the restoration of government review of health insurance premium increases before they are imposed.

Her research and advocacy resulted in the creation of the Basic Health Plan (now known as the Essential Plan), which is expanding coverage for low-income families, reducing their health care costs, and saving New York State $1 billion annually.

Ms. Benjamin has also been a tireless advocate for undocumented immigrants, developing practical solutions for New York to expand their coverage options. In addition to her policy work, she provides direct support to help New Yorkers sign up for health insurance, allowing her to stay connected to the communities she serves.

Among her many accolades, Ms. Benjamin has received the Consumer Health Advocate of the Year award from Families USA, a Special Merit Award from the NYC Public Health Association, the Progressive Leadership Award from Citizen Action of New York, and the Equal Access to Healthcare Award from New Yorkers for Patient and Family Empowerment.

Ms. Benjamin is deeply committed to the people of New York, and their stories and experience motivate her efforts. As one policymaker put it, “Elisabeth always brings a patient’s individual story to the forefront. Her caring and effective use of stories—combined with knowledge, analysis, and advocacy—has led her to be a powerful voice for consumers in Albany and beyond.”

Paloma Hernandez
Urban Health Plan

Paloma Hernandez is a leader ensuring that the residents of Hunts Point (in the Bronx) and Corona (in Queens) get the primary care services they need and deserve. As its President and CEO, she transformed Urban Health Plan from a one-site facility in the South Bronx to a far-reaching federally qualified community health center network that boasts nearly 366,000 patient visits per year. It now has nine sites, including a standalone adolescent health and wellness center, ten school health programs, three part-time facilities, two large WIC programs, and a workforce development center.

Ms. Hernandez constantly strives to improve the quality of care and outcomes for Urban Health Plan’s patients, and she emphasizes treating them with respect and sensitivity. Each year, she sees improvements in patients’ rates of asthma control, immunization, and screening and follow-up for depression. She is also committed to improving the community outside the clinic walls. Most recently, she worked with 15 food retailers to offer healthier food items to South Bronx residents. And she is incredibly generous with her colleagues across the country; she serves as a model health center network and is always willing to share strategies and lessons with others in the field.

She has earned local and national recognition for her work, including the EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management and the Heritage Award from Columbia University’s Latino Alumni Association. She was also inducted into the Grassroots Hall of Fame for the National Association of Community Health Centers and was honored by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University as a Geiger Gibson Distinguished Visitor.

Ms. Hernandez’s many accomplishments are perhaps best summarized by her Board chair, who said, “Paloma is ‘action’ and ‘energy’ and ‘passion’ in a great mind and heart….She is a visionary who shows unwavering strength of character, determination, and indomitable spirit in the face of tremendously difficult outside pressures. She has an amazing ability to engage positive results out of debilitating circumstances.”

Jerie Reid
Clinton County Health Department

Jerie Reid is one of the nation’s top rural public health directors. Under her leadership, the Clinton County Health Department was among the first in the U.S. and the second in New York State to achieve accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. This accreditation recognizes health department performance against nationally recognized, practice-focused, and evidenced-based standards and a commitment to continuous quality improvement.

Ms. Reid created some of the first local school wellness policies; secured funding for diabetes self-management education; advocated for a local needle exchange program; piloted several child weight management programs in the community; and successfully advocated for policies that reduce tobacco use and promote breastfeeding. Most recently, she was a founding member of a local substance use task force that unites representatives of 40 entities to address the mental, emotional, and behavioral health needs of residents.

She has also served as an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, infusing the next generation of leaders with her passion for public health as well as mentoring numerous student interns throughout the years.

The President of the Clinton County Board of Health noted that Ms. Reid’s “commitment to and passion for community nutrition and public health has made our county a healthier place to live for residents from all walks of life.” She is known as a creative problem-solver, a team-oriented leader who values community partnerships, and a tenacious advocate for policies and practices to improve the health of Clinton County. Her staff note that she “is also a clear, quick communicator, accessible, and makes all staff feel valued for their contributions. She is receptive to ideas and boasts a keen sense of humor.”

Ms. Reid and her work have been recognized by the National Association of County & City Health Officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation, the Health Innovation Coordinating Council (HICCup), and the National Association of Local Boards of Health.

James Sutton
Rochester Regional Health

James Sutton is an international leader in ensuring that resettled refugees have access to proper health care. He recognized that health care for refugees in upstate New York was ad hoc and not financially sustainable. For many health care providers, delivering care to refugees has been a financial stress, prompting many clinics to shut their doors to new refugees or close down altogether.

Mr. Sutton developed a new, cost-effective model of care and piloted it in Rochester. This model helps primary care providers capture federal reimbursement funds for providing mandated health assessments to newly arrived refugees, and streamlines the Medicaid recertification process, resulting in continuous coverage of all eligible refugees and allowing primary care clinics to receive full reimbursement for services provided.

Based on his success in Rochester, Mr. Sutton worked with health centers, resettlement agencies, and others to spread the model to Utica, where it has been implemented successfully. His work also extends beyond New York: he created the Society of Refugee Healthcare Providers as well as the North American Refugee Health Conference. Closer to home, he formed and runs the Rochester Council on Refugee Resettlement.

Because of Mr. Sutton’s efforts, 6,000 refugees in upstate New York now receive high-quality health care services, and hundreds of physicians across North America are trained each year to provide services to refugees.

Mr. Sutton has received the Distinguished Service Award from the Rochester Academy of Medicine, the Golisano Foundation Healthcare Leadership Award, the Rochester Business Journal Healthcare for Special Need Patients Award, and the Rochester General Health System Patricia Lewis Award of Clinical Excellence.

As one partner said, because of Mr. Sutton’s work, “refugees now entering Rochester not only receive the appropriate State-mandated screening exams but are quickly and efficiently connected with a culturally appropriate primary care provider to receive quality health care for the rest of their lives….Jim has been able to creatively solve gaps in care and institute sustainable programs.”

Elizabeth Swain (posthumously)
Community Health Care Association of New York State

Elizabeth Swain, who passed away in July 2016, was a transformative leader of New York State’s system of community health centers. When she began her work at the Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS) in 2005, Ms. Swain saw that federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) had grown significantly in other areas of the country, but not in New York State. Most policymakers lacked even a basic understanding of FQHCs, how they were regulated and reimbursed, or how many were operating in the State.

Ms. Swain recognized a need for an effective advocacy organization with a clear vision and a unified and expanded membership. She engaged policymakers, bolstered FQHC expansion efforts, and transformed CHCANYS into one of the nation’s leading primary care associations. Her work has helped New York’s FQHCs improve the quality and comprehensiveness of their services, enabled them to serve more patients, and positioned them as critical partners in the State’s ongoing health care delivery reform efforts.

Later, as demand for primary care increased as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Ms. Swain led efforts to help health centers in underserved areas secure federal New Access Point grants. This work led to more than $41 million in federal funding to expand FQHCs in New York State. She also guided the development and implementation of a statewide plan for expanding sustainable health centers in New York State. The plan lays out a rational, data-based plan for building FQHC capacity and has been used by policymakers to guide the expansion of health centers across the State.

As a result of Ms. Swain’s vision and leadership, 2 million New Yorkers now receive high-quality care and services at FQHCs and policymakers are keenly aware of the value of the FQHC model.

Governor Cuomo noted at Ms. Swain’s memorial service earlier this year, “As one of the original members of the 2011 Medicaid Redesign Team, Elizabeth’s work helped shape discussions that guided Medicaid policy over the last five years and will continue to influence its future. We will all remember Elizabeth with tremendous respect and admiration, knowing that with ardent devotion and passion for her work, she significantly improved health care for countless people.”

Emerging Innovator Awards

The Emerging Innovator Awards recognize 5 New York-based nonprofit organizations poised to make radical improvements to the state of New York’s health over the next 10 years. Organizations selected as NYHealth Emerging Innovators, many of them new partners for NYHealth, received $25,000 each in recognition of their potential to improve health and/or health care in New York State. The awards recognize new and innovative approaches to tackling some of New York’s thorniest, most persistent health challenges. Working on issues as diverse as food access, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, and post-traumatic stress, all of these organizations are using novel approaches to transform the health of New Yorkers. Jean-Luc Neptune, M.D., Partner at Blueprint Health and head judge for the Emerging Innovator Awards, announced the recipients at our anniversary event on October 20, 2016.

Center for Active Design (New York City)

The Center for Active Design (CfAD) is a young, rapidly growing organization that uses design to foster healthy and engaged communities. Its mission is to transform design and development practice, ensuring equitable access to vibrant public and private spaces that support healthy communities in New York and beyond. CfAD provides research, resources, and technical assistance to developers, designers, and communities to enhance the health impact of their projects. It has placed particular emphasis on affordable housing developments, and has also worked on hospital and worksite projects in New York City, Staten Island, Buffalo, and Syracuse.

In conjunction with Partnership for a Healthier America, CfAD developed Active Design Verified, a verification program that establishes benchmarks for healthy affordable housing development. Prospect Park—in Brownsville, Brooklyn—is poised to become the first-ever Active Design Verified building; three additional sites in New York are pending verification. Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CfAD is now operating Fitwel, a new low-cost building certification standard that helps workplaces support employees’ health and benefit from lower health care costs and reduced absenteeism.

CfAD’s initiatives are rooted in a growing foundation of research that explores how the design of the built environment affects physical, mental, and social health outcomes. Its staff translates findings into practical design strategies, develops and disseminates resources, and supports widespread implementation across a range of communities. In 10 years, CfAD envisions that health will be a fundamental priority in all design projects; as a result, communities in and beyond New York will experience improved health.

As one partner explains, CfAD’s staff “inspires and educates practitioners about design options and best practices that can be used to promote health. They also uphold the importance of addressing community health needs and developing design solutions that respond to the unique culture and community context that define any project.”

Watch a video about the project.

Center for Law and Justice (Albany)

The Center for Law and Justice (CFLJ) is a community-based organization in Albany’s South End focused on issues related to the interactions among health care, poverty, race, and criminal justice in New York’s Capital District. CFLJ has developed the HEAL initiative—Health, Education, Advocacy, and LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion)—to improve community health, work with law enforcement to divert low-level offenders to health and social service providers rather than the criminal justice system, educate residents about disease prevention and treatment, and advocate for policy changes related to mental health, substance use, and criminal justice.

CFLJ’s approach pushes for substance use to be treated as a health issue rather than as an intolerable crime. Mass incarceration is a major contributor to poor health in communities, and those who are released from incarceration need support and connections to health resources when they return to their communities. Ten years from now, as a result of its work, CFLJ expects that more than 1,000 Albany residents will have been diverted from the criminal justice system. Instead, they will have found community support services that heal their wounds and lift them up.

The Center is also working with several Albany-based health care providers to assess local residents’ health care needs and address barriers to good health. Providers and students will help clients navigate a range of issues in the health care system, from overcoming language barriers that impede patients’ ability to schedule appointments, to helping patients put together a list of questions to ask their health care providers.
This comprehensive approach—addressing the underlying health and social issues that are wrapped up in substance use and low-level criminal activity—is what has the potential to be truly transformative. One partner put it plainly: “As I work with the Center, I am struck by the out-of-the-box approach….Once a potential offender is diverted from the criminal justice system, the important work of getting the poverty, racial, and health needs met is crucial for change—so that the offender becomes a success rather than a repeat offender.

Watch a video about the project.

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House (New York City)

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is a 122-year-old settlement house that has developed a model farm-to-institution food program serving 400,000 fresh, healthy, and locally sourced meals to low-income New Yorkers annually through two senior centers, a homeless shelter, Head Start and universal pre-K program, after-school program, summer camp, and a day program for older adults living with dementia.

Last year it created The Teaching Kitchen at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a nuts-and-bolts food business course to help nonprofit food service directors, chefs, nutritionists, and kitchen staff learn from the model, overcome organizational barriers, and identify actionable steps to increase their clients’ access to fresh, healthy, local food. The Teaching Kitchen has already trained organizations that serve 1.5 million meals annually. Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is now working to scale The Teaching Kitchen to train 100 nonprofit organizations annually, with the goal of training 500 nonprofit organizations serving 40 million meals annually to low-income New Yorkers.

Many of the individuals served by nonprofit food programs (e.g., senior centers, homeless shelters, early childhood programs) are at risk for chronic disease and other diet-related health conditions. Transforming existing nonprofit institutional food programs into centers of healthy, local food is a low-cost and high-impact means of expanding low-income New Yorkers’ access to and awareness of healthy foods.

Ten years from now, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House’s work will have improved hundreds of millions of meals served to low-income New Yorkers. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will have increased access to and consumption of healthy foods, leading to a range of improved health outcomes. These improvements will in turn encourage systemic changes to the way that nonprofit organizations and institutional food suppliers source their food, potentially affecting the health of millions of New Yorkers. In addition to the transformative potential for public health, transitioning institutional food programs represents an enormous opportunity to support local farms, build the local economy, and make New York more environmentally sustainable.

As one partner said, “There is no one else doing anything similar to The Teaching Kitchen in New York City. Lenox Hill Neighborhood House staff have not only been working to show nonprofit organizations how to serve more fresh and local food; they have also been showing them that it can be done without raising costs, thereby removing most institutions’ biggest perceived barrier.”

Patton Veterans Project (New York City)

Patton Veterans Project uses video production and storytelling to help veterans and military families cope with post-traumatic stress. It develops and runs “I WAS THERE” Film Workshops that give veterans the chance to learn about filmmaking and create short films about their service experience. The program enables veterans to connect with one another, make sense of their traumatic experiences, become more open to seeking care, and substantially reduce their PTSD symptoms.

The workshop combines the proven therapeutic value of storytelling with video, the communications medium of choice for many of today’s veterans. The filmmaking process encourages collaboration, reduces stigma, and builds hope and a new sense of community among participants. In addition, the completed films serve as tools to help educate non-veterans about the challenges associated with trauma, transition, and other struggles that New York’s estimated 85,000 returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face.

Many initially see filmmaking as fun, but not as a serious intervention for post-traumatic stress. Yet as the participants focus on making a movie about often stressful service experiences, they are placed outside of the trauma, looking in, which can paradoxically reduce stigma and triggers associated with that trauma. Participants become a character in their own films and are therefore empowered to take control of their story.

Preliminary survey data show that participants in the collaborative filmmaking workshops experience reduced post-traumatic stress symptoms and increased openness to seeking help for mental health services. A larger VA-supported study is now in development to confirm those results.

The program is making a meaningful difference in the lives of New York’s veterans. One participant noted, “I signed up for the three-day course in filmmaking, expecting to learn tips and tricks to improve my video production skills. What I came away with was a deep passion and concern for my fellow vets.”

Watch a video about the project.

Soul Fire Farm Institute (Rensselaer)

Soul Fire Farm Institute was founded by a family living in inner-city Albany that found it was easier to acquire weapons and drugs in their neighborhood than it was to get healthy food. Committed to providing good food for their neighbors, they purchased land, started to farm, and began focusing on reducing disparities in food access. Soul Fire provides direct food distribution weekly to 80 families living in food deserts; families pay on a sliding scale based on income, and may use SNAP/EBT for payment. It also works to increase the number of farmers—particularly black and Latino farmers—in New York State and nationally. It has trained more than 1,500 young people and adults in farming practices; provides educational resources on farming, cooking, and nutrition; and is engaged in advocacy work to support farmers and improve fresh food access.

Soul Fire is the only minority-led farm in the area that offers comprehensive training and support for new minority farmers. Of the hundreds of participants it has trained, 87% continue to work on farms or in the food system. By training farmers, Soul Fire is supporting the community in providing for its own healthy food needs and advancing food sovereignty.

Its vision for the future is bold: by 2026, as a result of Soul Fire’s work alongside its partners, it will be the norm for small farms across New York State to distribute fresh food directly to vulnerable populations. Policy changes supportive of small-scale farming will lead to a stronger, more diverse farming community that is more reflective of the diversity of the State. Those changes will also increase access to and consumption of local, fresh fruits and vegetables. Ultimately, the incidence of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes will decrease as a result.

Already, Soul Fire is making a real difference in the community, in part because its founders are part of the community it serves. As one partner noted, “Soul Fire Farm is a leader…in the development of educational programs that reach out to potential farmers of color…empowering them to grow their own communities as they grow healthy food.”

Watch a video about the project.