“Healthcare is a right for every single human being. We shouldn’t be seeing disparity based on race or income level.”
Ritter Center’s COO, Samson Mael, Reveals His Healthcare Career Influences
COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities in every aspect of life, and Ritter Center’s Samson Mael is not surprised by the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on people of color. One of his strongest childhood memories focuses on the lack of access by minorities to quality healthcare.
“We have known for a long time about the poor health outcomes of people of color. But many in the world are just starting to become aware of this fact,” notes Samson. “Just glance at the numbers of the types of people who are dying from COVID, and you’ll quickly see where the disparities are in our society.”
“Unfortunately, the last several years catalyzed the racism that was already underneath the surface and gave it license to emerge more fully. When some in our country showed their true colors, it was sad and surprising simultaneously to see how many people think that way,” recalls Samson. “We have a lot of education to do now. This has taken us back 20 years or more.”
The silver lining of both the pandemic and civil unrest is that we have the opportunity to pause and reset to see through a new lens full of hope and potential for healing.
“The Black Lives Matter movement opened Ritter’s eyes as well,”stated Samson. “We are also part of the movement. We have put a diversity, equity and inclusion committee together. We are talking about bringing more staff members that are minorities on board. We recognize the importance of having a diverse workforce everywhere, and we are no exception.”
“I made the decision to pursue a career in healthcare administration based on the poor experience with healthcare I witnessed as a kid. Our community had to endure poor care, and that inspired me to improve the way healthcare is delivered. Indeed, it has served as motivation throughout my career.
As a young kid, I wanted to be a nurse but I quickly learned that I wouldn’t make a good nurse because I was not fond of blood. I changed my major to sociology concentration in social work and realized I can still help people which was my goal all along,” remembers Samson.
Samson went back to school to get a Master of Science degree in Healthcare Administration with the goal of becoming a healthcare services manager. While in graduate school, he joined the organization American College of Health Care Executives and the National Association of Health Services Executives. He also put a team together to attend the National Association of Health Services Executives educational conference and competed in the Everett V. Fox Case Competition. Samson and his team represented their school in a case competition to address managing the scenario of a failing health system. The team presented their approach to senior healthcare executives.
At the conference, Samson found that the experience opened his eyes to where he is today.
“What I saw was people that looked like me in C-suite positions. It inspired me. I didn’t see that representation growing up in West Oakland. But what I saw that week changed me forever. I saw that the CEO of Kaiser looked like me, and that connected all of the dots for me. It changed my mind about what I want to do in healthcare. Never underestimate the power of seeing yourself in others that look like you,” shared Samson.
Motivated even more than before, Samson began networking. He had an informational interview with Alameda Health System’s Vice President of Ambulatory Care Services and fell in love with ambulatory care services. They were opening a brand new clinic with 36 examining rooms and they hired Samson to help manage the building project. This moment in time also shaped Samson into the role he plays today in healthcare as the COO of Ritter Center which is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).
He also gives credit to his mentor Benita McLarin who is Director of the Marin County Health and Human Services Director now. She was the vice president of ambulatory services at Alameda Health System when he first met her.
“I was a young man from Oakland managing a 7 million dollar project for Alameda Health System on time and under budget. That made me pursue my dream to become a healthcare administrator and when the opportunity came to work at Ritter Center, I was ready. I started as clinic manager and was promoted to director of clinic operations, and eventually I became the COO,” described Samson.
“The most formative experience for me happened when I was quite young. My mentor in the social work world was dealing with kidney failure and was receiving dialysis one day a week. The care he received from a nurse wasn’t ideal. She had an attitude and the lack of respect with how he was treated made a major impact on me. It left me forever changed and inspired to make a difference.”
“Healthcare is a right for every single human being. I want to do my part to change the world and make it a better place. Regardless of socioeconomic background, each individual should receive quality healthcare. We shouldn’t be seeing disparity based on race or income level. It is embarrassing where healthcare is currently at in our country compared to other places in the world. Our healthcare system is broken and needs to be fixed. America spends more on healthcare than any other developed nation yet Americans lead far shorter lives than residents of other developed countries,” urged Samson.
“According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 the average black American could expect to live to just age 75, but it was age 79 for white Americans. In 2021 it is the same life expectancy white Americans enjoyed decades earlier in 1979. Also according to the CDC today, Black Americans remain far more likely than white Americans to die from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. I know that being at Ritter Center, this is part of my personal lifelong mission to change the way healthcare is delivered.”