Alum heads efforts to improve Hispanic health

Photo on 6-20-14 at 3.01 PMDr. Jane Delgado ’73, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, was just 16 years old when she arrived at SUNY New Paltz as a freshman in 1969. After skipping the eighth grade and realizing she’d be able to graduate high school by the summer of her junior year, she began researching colleges.

Delgado was attracted to not just the psychology program at New Paltz, but also the campus’ proximity to her hometown of Brooklyn. Delgado, a member of a Hispanic family and daughter of a single mother, says “the thought of me going away was very hard. But my mother was extremely supportive and she made it possible.” (Delgado’s daughter, Liz Delgado Steo, also graduated from the psychology program at SUNY New Paltz in 2009).

“It was my first time away from my mother and away from home,” says Delgado. “My freshman year, there were girls’ dorms and boys’ dorms, and in order to have a boy come up to your room, the house mother had to approve, and there were all sorts of rules. My sophomore year, we had coed dorms. So it was really a time of transition and change at the university.”

After graduating from SUNY New Paltz in 1973, Delgado continued to pursue psychology, and earned her PhD in clinical psychology from SUNY Stony Brook. But after she realized that “in order to work, and change, and help people, I have to work at institutions and help them be better,” her advisor put her in touch with a colleague at Yale University, who inspired Delgado to pursue a degree in policy. She then added a Master of Science from SUNY Stony Brook’s W. Averell Harriman School of Urban and Policy Sciences to her list of academic accomplishments.

Having served previous positions as senior policy advisor in the Immediate Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and children’s talent coordinator at Sesame Street, Delgado currently heads the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit National Alliance for Hispanic Health, which works to improve the health of Hispanic communities and serves as the nation’s foremost source of information on Hispanic health (according to the organization’s website).

Delgado has authored five books, and is regularly sought out by media as a commentator. She serves on several national boards including the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Institute of Medicine Board on Health Care Services. In 2010, Ladies Home Journal named Delgado one of its “Ladies We Love,” and in 2008 she was recognized by WebMD as a “Health Hero.” Just last year, Delgado was named as one of the 101 most influential Latinos in the U.S. by Latino Leaders magazine. And she still remains a clinical psychologist who sees patients, though her policy work takes up the majority of her professional life.

Delgado remains engaged with SUNY New Paltz to this day: She is a former member of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board, and in 1997, she established the Lucy Delgado Scholarship Endowment in honor of her mother (last year, the Kresge Foundation of Troy, Mich., made a $20,000 gift to support the scholarship). She also stays in close contact with SUNY New Paltz Psychology Professor Emeritus Robert Presbie, who she tries to visit at least once a year.

“He was a very special person,” says Delgado of Presbie. “He really supported me by encouraging me. … He was always very supportive. If I hit a road block or something, he would say, ‘That’s okay. It happens. You just have to try another way.’”

And clearly, Delgado has continued applying Presbie’s lesson throughout her career in policy: “When you fight the good fight, sometimes you lose a battle but you end up winning the war,” she says. “It takes time, and that’s why the work I do at the Alliance is so important, because it’s not like you can come to Washington and make policy in a week. You have to be there for the long haul.”