[caption id="attachment_229475" align="aligncenter" width="805"] Westside Family Healthcare CEO Lolita Lopez will be retiring in July 2023. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTSIDE FAMILY HEALTHCARE[/caption]
WILMINGTON — Lolita Lopez, who has led the Westside Family Healthcare from its days as a two-exam room facility to a statewide system that treats thousands of low-income Delawareans, will retire July 1.Lopez has served as Westside’s CEO since 1990, at a time when the nonprofit operated out of a small office in the Adams Four Shopping Center on the West Side of Wilmington. Throughout her tenure, the organization has received Joint Commission Accreditation, hired enrollment specialists to help clients navigate insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and has grown to all three counties.“It’s wonderful being honored as the leader of this organization. I consider all the 230 employees as my family, and I will certainly miss them,” Lopez told the Delaware Business Times. “I feel really proud of my legacy, and I hope it continues for many years.”Westside Family Healthcare’s Board of Directors has named the current chief operating officer, Chris Fraser, as Westside’s next CEO.Lopez’s time as Westside’s leader was forged in her background in education and social work, as she studied early childhood education at the University of Delaware and started out teaching preschoolers at Head Start. The more time she spent in the classrooms, the more she realized she wanted to impact policy to change families' lives.She later went on to Children’s Beach House in Lewes, becoming family coordinator and program director. Next she moved to the Girls Club of Delaware , which later changed its name to Girls, Inc., in an administrative role, working her way to become associate director.By that time, she was looking to become an executive director. Westside, then a three-person organization dedicated to serving low-income families in the city, was looking for one.“When I showed up, I was naive, in my mid-30s, had the single-girl ambition and had all the time in the world,” Lopez said with a laugh. “I didn’t have business training, but I had great skills in program development and fundraising — and Westside needed someone to raise money to help them sustain themselves.”Today, Westside has 230 employees with a $30 million budget, with 27,000 patients and roughly 100,000 visits a year. But early accomplishments Lopez named in her career there included the first capital campaign to raise $2.2 million to support expanding to the 4th Street office.In the years since, Westside opened Northeast Health Center, the Newark Health Center, Bear/New Castle Health Center, the Dover Health Center offering behavioral health and prenatal services, dental services in Kent and New Castle counties and a mobile health unit for Kent and Sussex residents.“When I started here, I really started to embrace the concept of health equity and how that model addresses the social needs of all our patients. We had to break down barriers that our patients met, just trying to get into health care: finance, transportation, and language,” she said. “Removing those became really important, because what we had at the time was not enough. I could keep seeing the needs in the community a lot more as time passed.”That mindset helped guide part of the state’s COVID-19 response, as Westside became a key partner in reaching out to the Black and Latino community in Delaware in terms of testing and later vaccinating the population. Westside staff members would go out in the community to provide those services as what Lopez said was a “best kept secret.”“What community health is about is prevention. We added the vaccines to our programs and it’s important to us to offer them in our health centers in our communities,” she said. “We offered virtual care and telehealth, making sure our patients were safe and we could meet them without coming in.”Another great accomplishment Lopez lists is watching and aiding employees grow and come up through the organization.“It has been a joy to help them develop,” she said. “My successor, Chris Fraser, has been with me for 23 years and he's learned all the jobs over time. He’s mission-based and committed to the organization.”“The real key to success is finding those folks, and it isn’t easy,” she added. “But that mission does keep people here. I always felt like I belonged here. I just couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else.”Once she retires, Lopez plans to spend time with her husband at their Lewes home and travel. But she also plans on continuing to serve her community through volunteer work. She is a member of the ChristianaCare Council of Advisors and vice chair of the ChristianaCare Health Services Board of Directors, and is on track to be elected chair of in 2024. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Delaware Technical Community College.