Madam President

CSB alumna leads association that represents 48 non-profit community clinics and health centers in Los Angeles area

December 27, 2012

By Diane Hageman

Louise McCarthy '96 moderates a forum of L.A. mayoral candidates at the South L.A. Health and Human Right Conference in mid-December 2012. Photo credit: St. John's Well Child & Family Center.

When Louise McCarthy '96 was taking her peace studies classes at CSB and SJU, she never dreamed that nearly 20 years later she'd rely daily on the diplomacy and negotiation skills she learned.

"I am using these skills on a regular basis," said McCarthy, president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County (CCALAC) who leads a staff of 20 and represents the interests of the 48 non-profit community clinics and health centers that make up the association. "I work to bring people together by finding common ground, whether it's meeting with legislators to protect public programs, or working with clinic leaders to develop common strategies to improve patient care."

The clinics care for more than one million underserved and vulnerable patients each year, the majority of whom are uninsured. 

McCarthy finds it "absolutely exciting, absolutely fun" to be working at the ground level of health care reform. She is currently working with member clinics and L.A.'s Department of Health Services to implement an early expansion of Medicaid to over 200,000 individuals before the nationwide implementation in 2014. They are also testing new payment models that encourage improved quality of care and advocating to ensure that Congress continues to fund the implementation of reform. "We're writing the book as we live it.  The bureaucracy can be very challenging but the passion people have for it is contagious," she said.

Prior to becoming president and CEO in 2010, she was vice president of governmental affairs at CCALAC for three years. She has also worked for the California Primary Care Association, the California Bureau of State Audits, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Family Housing Fund.  She holds a master's degree in public policy from UCLA.

Sense of accomplishment matters

"I've never had a set career plan," McCarthy noted. "I've just found things that seem interesting to me and pursued them — particularly in the areas of economic and social justice. Coming from a broad liberal arts and policy background, we tend to be generalists, not specialists. This means we can adapt to working in a number of arenas. My work allows me to know that, at the end of the day, I've accomplished something."

In addition to majoring in peace studies, McCarthy majored in French and minored in Spanish. She followed a long line of Johnnies and Bennies — her dad, uncles, cousins and brother all paved the way for her.

"CSB made it affordable for me to go. I had a good financial aid package with scholarships," she said. "It made a huge impact on me."

Life isn't all work

As one might imagine, leading an organization that is in the trenches of health care advocacy can be all-consuming and stressful.  Yet, McCarthy enjoys a couple of unique activities that help her unwind from the intensity of her career.

McCarthy practices capoeira, a Brazilian martial art rooted in music, dance, gymnastics and "serious butt-kicking." She teaches a weekly capoeira class at the Brasil Brasil Cultural Center in Los Angeles. She's also an amateur samba drummer and has performed with various Brazilian groups in L.A.

"I really got interested in Brazilian culture through a Latin American studies class I took when I was at CSB and SJU. I first saw capoeira at a protest in San Francisco when I was doing my peace studies internship from CSB," she said. "It's remained an ongoing interest."

The future

McCarthy isn't placing any bets on what the next steps of her career will be. She's focused on her current role and following her passions.

"I can't predict anything. I didn't look for this job, it found me," McCarthy said. "I am just focusing on my work and making sure it lines up with my values."

Photo Credit: Focus Bella Productions