Portrait of Laura with artwork in the background
Meet CMO Laura Garcia, CRNP

05.24.23

Introducing...our new Chief Medical Officer

After earning her Master of Science in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University in 2014, Laura Garcia quickly made the move to Health Care for the Homeless and never looked back. Starting as Family Nurse Practitioner, Laura was promoted to Director of Adult Medicine in 2016 and to Senior Medical Director at Fallsway in 2021. Laura was a key clinical leader through the COVID pandemic, including the creation and execution of screening, testing and vaccination clinics at our largest clinic. Get to know more about her below. 


After two years as Senior Medical Director at Fallsway, why were you interested in becoming CMO?

I went into health care because of my experience in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago. I worked with a public health nurse named Omar, who had been a presence in the rural, desert high Atlas Mountain community for over 20 years. Very shortly after arriving, I worked with Omar to seek out individual infants due for vaccines who lived miles away from the clinic. It would have taken hours for the parents to walk to the clinic and back, so he maintained a registry of patients to keep all children vaccinations up-to-date within his community. I saw what a difference one person could make. This was my first experience with public health nursing, outreach, and meeting the patients where they are. Despite Baltimore being very different from Morocco, what we do here at Health Care for the Homeless is the same thing. We meet patients where they are and work with them to improve their health just like my nurse mentor Omar did. As the Chief Medical Officer, I want to support staff in continuing to deliver care like this, combining our patient centered approach with harm reduction and trauma-informed care—acknowledging that so many patients mistrust medical institutions for well-founded reasons. I see it as my job to continue pushing to expand when, where, and how our care is delivered with the patient’s voice as our guide so that patients can have more control over their health.

The last three years of COVID have been particularly difficult for health care providers – both with burnout and difficulty with hiring. What are some ways you hope to create a healthy workplace?

Both as a country and an agency we have asked a lot of all health care staff. At Health Care for the Homeless, we deliver care knowing that the person in front of us doesn’t have a house to go home to. Seeing that type of injustice over and over is very difficult, and learning how to manage that is crucial to working here.

I encourage staff to use the tools available. From our Employee Assistance Program, where staff can get free behavioral health services, to taking time off, using professional development funds to learn new skills or participating in activities that improve systems both within the agency and in the community. These are all important ways to mitigate and address burnout.

Creating and supporting spaces for staff to acknowledge and share their experiences, whether that's through our quarterly Client Memorials, during departmental meetings, or during supervisory meetings is so important, too. When we are equipped to invite feedback and conversations about burnout, that opens space to listen and problem-solve together. When we spend time acknowledging the hard and important work that staff are doing, they feel more seen, heard and appreciated.

Personally, I want to set an example of healthy boundaries and work more deliberately on modeling our shared core value of Balance.

I don't have all the answers, but I am looking forward to working with staff to figure out how they wish to be supported and acknowledged.

Will you continue to see clients?

Yes, there are a number of primary care patients I have seen for almost nine years now! For me, clinical time strengthens my ability to lead and to stay grounded in what patients and staff are experiencing. Nothing can replace sitting down and talking to a patient about what's bothering them and coming up with a treatment plan together.

What elements of the job are you most excited about?

Working with our phenomenal staff and clients to improve our communities’ health and wellness! One particularly exciting example is our new on-site OB program. It’s incredible to deliver a service that, for the entire time I've been here, we've struggled to connect patients to in the community.

As an agency, we’ve been working to center racial equity and inclusion at all levels of work. Why is racial equity important in the context of medical care?

Racism and discrimination are diseases within our society. They affect the entire society, but they also affect the individual. Experiencing racism affects you not just mentally, but physically as well. Data shows it increases stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic diseases like high blood pressure.

I’m asking Black and brown patients to come into my clinic room and trust me. Having a racial equity lens helps to center the patient in the care and adds a focus on meeting the patient where they are. Through this lens, I more fully value the patient's real-life experience and provide better medical care. If I fail to recognize the role the racism and discrimination plays in patients' lives, I am not only failing in my role as a medical provider, I’m failing in my role as a human.

What’s one example of how racial equity and inclusion is informing your approach as CMO?

I am weaving my REI lens into everything I do. It's not always neat and tidy, but adding that lens gives me a different perspective and challenges me to ask questions that lead down a different path when making decisions. We can’t tackle racism only when the most extreme examples are at play. We also need to tackle all the smaller examples of racism that occur throughout the day. As the senior medical director, I focused on hiring practices, development of policies and procedures, and training staff. I plan to continue those efforts in my new role making sure to ask myself at all decision points 1. Who is being impacted? 2. How are they being impacted? 3. Who is being left out?

How do you approach balance for yourself?

I am very lucky to have a support network that makes this happen, which includes my family and friends. Right now, with two young children and a new position, I am in a re-balancing phase. I am re-learning how to manage the clinical, administrative, and personal responsibilities I have. I've gone through this cycle many times at Health Care for the Homeless, where Balance looks different to me. No matter what, taking time off, spending time with friends and family, and taking moments to stop and listen to a good song have been critical.

How did you celebrate the promotion?

We had a celebratory meal at home, which was wonderful!


Congratulate Laura when you see her next!

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