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Public Health Pioneer 

Trailblazer of the Day | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Carmen Velásquez

As the State of Illinois embarks upon the new Health Insurance Marketplace this week, we honor a true pioneer in public health policy and health care affordability. Carmen Velásquez founded Alivio Medical Center in 1988 as a nonprofit community health center which has since grown to six locations (with two more clinics slated to open later this year) serving some 25,000 patients annually. Thanks to Velásquez’s vision and determination, Alivio has been providing comprehensive medical care for those who cannot afford it or lack sufficient health coverage in primarily Latino neighborhoods for a quarter-century.

“Tenemos derecho a la salud (We have the right to be healthy). Knowing that undocumented Latinos have derechos (rights), I have always believed in the mission of Alivio Medical Center. Health touches every aspect of a human being’s life.”

The daughter of Mexican immigrants – her father harvested beets in South Dakota before coming to Illinois to start a successful jukebox business – Velásquez earned degrees from Loyola University of Chicago and the University of the America in Puebla, Mexico.

Velásquez had a colorful career before launching Alivio Medical Center. As a community organizer, she advocated for universal healthcare, comprehensive immigration reform and workforce development. She also worked as a social worker and bilingual education specialist. It was during her time as a bilingual education specialist that she first saw the need for basic health care services in the immigrant community.

On September 15, Velásquez was recognized at halftime by the Chicago Bears with the NFL’s Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. She has also been honored with the MALDEF Lifetime Achievement Award, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leadership Award, and Premio Ohtli, the highest honor bestowed by the Government of Mexico upon an individual for service to Mexicans living abroad. Velásquez recently announced her retirement, leaving a legacy of hundreds of thousands of healthier Illinoisans.