When Robyn Riseberg started Boston Community Pediatrics, she knew she wanted to make a difference and give back to the place she was brought up. She also knew the current health system wasn’t working for low income families. ‘I realized I had two options’, Robyn explains, ‘complain about it or try to make it better. I won’t say I never complained about it, but ultimately, I realized that we needed a new approach to the way we take care of patients and families.
First in Boston
What she came up with is a first. The only non-profit private pediatric practice in Massachusetts. Yes, you heard that right, BCP doesn’t make a profit. All surpluses are poured back into services for patients such as supporting families with grocery assistance, wellness programming including fitness activities, cooking classes, tutoring programs and expanding their mental health support.
‘I really wanted to address the inequities in healthcare and outcomes that COVID-19 has highlighted’, says Robyn, ‘and creating a new healthcare delivery model that other medical practices can replicate is one way of doing that’. She also knew that there was a natural conflict of starting a profit business aimed at low-income families. ‘I think great healthcare is a basic human right’, says Robyn ‘and knew that it would be tough to prove a new model with a for-profit business’.
Robyn certainly knows what she’s talking about. She spent fifteen years working on healthcare front lines, listening to what patients needed and wanted from their doctors and the healthcare system. Now she feels she has the knowledge and experience to start something new.
Getting the word out
Like any business, BCP had to generate awareness of what they were doing to get new patients (customers) in the door. They successfully achieved this initially with the help of a public relations consultant who reached out to media for free publicity (especially as they had a great story), which built word-of-mouth. People were excited to see what they were doing. Robyn then asked Congressman Joe Kennedy III to speak at the center’s opening, and he said yes! ‘I was so thrilled’, says Robyn, ‘I’ve admired his commitment to families, as an advocate for equity and the underserved as well as a champion for healthcare. It truly was an honor to have him speak at our opening’.
Though reputation and word of mouth have started them off, BCP has an informative website bostoncommunitypediatrics.org that attracts search traffic and will soon reach out to community organizations and OB/GYN offices for referrals. Social media such as Instagram also highlights all they are doing within the community and directly with patients.
A helping hand
Every business owner relies on someone to help inspire them. In Robyn’s case, she’s had two champions.
First, she credits her parents as role models and experts on non-profit organizations, service, equity, supporting her desire to go to medical school (which others thought was a terrible idea), and most importantly, believed in her and never once said she shouldn’t do this.
Her second inspiring mentor is Dr. Gerald Hass, who started the South End Community Health Center over fifty years ago. ‘He is a true mentor and friend’, says Robyn, ‘and has given me incredible support and inspiration from the day I met him’. Robyn liked how he always treated patients and staff like family, and Boston Community Pediatrics is based on his core beliefs.
‘My advice for other business owners’, recommends Robyn’ is after you’ve found someone to help you when you need advice, it’s then up to you to be confident, passionate, and ready to work harder than you ever have in your life to make it succeed’.
Getting a break
We all need providence to smile down on us at times. For Robyn, the best piece of good news was when BCP’s non-profit status was confirmed, allowing her to start fundraising. BCP then received a multi-year donation which gave her the confidence that the business was going to happen.
Other help included the advice from smart people on her board, with sage advice such as:
- Talk to everyone you’re introduced to and turn up to every meeting. You never know who may be interested in supporting your business or refer you to someone that will.
- Refuse to let perfection be the enemy and keep moving forward even when everything isn’t perfect (the day BCP opened their office still needed some final touches, but they were able to see patients and the day was still a great success)
- Always be ready to adapt and keep marching towards the next goal in order to stay on track.
- Keep pushing yourself and (gently) those around you to achieve your goals.
It’s not always plain sailing. Robyn has had to contend with:
- The hard practical realities of medical contracting and credentialing
- Navigating the complicated medical payment system (BCP accepts all insurances despite varying levels of reimbursement)
- COVID making everything more challenging
- That over sixty percent of their families are food insecure
- Getting an electronic medical record system up and running
- Finding a way to conduct a robust evaluation of the program (she is using graduate schools at BC, BU and Harvard to advise).
However her commitment to the cause and the difference she knew she was making, gave her the determination to keep going.
Since opening, BCP has grown from strength to strength, continuing to form important connections. It’s one of the aspects of running the business that Robyn loves, working alongside like-minded leaders to support low income families and children in partnership. Soon she will launch her mobile medical program into the community which is a real testament to Robyn’s hard work and vision, achieving so much more when working together for a common cause.
We’d agree and wish her all the best.