Dr. John Palmer, M.A. ’82, Ph.D. ’91, who has held several executive level positions at hospitals and healthcare organizations, has worked throughout his career to better these institutions, improve the health and well-being of the people they serve, and help preserve Harlem and African American cultural history.

Retired Executive Director of Harlem Hospital Center and the Renaissance HealthCare Network
Current Director of Community Affairs and Diversity, Touro School of Osteopathic Medicine.  

Favorite professors: Gordon Derner stands out. His focus on trying to make sure that underrepresented minorities had an opportunity to study psychology at the Institute was impressive. He was a figure of influence and offered a lot of great information in terms of the professional psychology field and its history.

Mentor: Dr. Muriel Petioni. She graduated from Howard University Medical School in 1937 and was one of the first female physicians in Harlem. She was a leader in the medical field and the community. I met her when she was 85 years old and we got together on a monthly basis. Even at that age, she spent her time at the Harlem Hospital, advocating for patients. She died at 97 years old. I look to her as an example as to how to live my life.

Throughout a career in which he has held several executive level positions at hospitals and healthcare organizations, Dr. John Palmer has worked to better these institutions, improve the health and well-being of the people they serve, and help preserve Harlem and African American cultural history.

He got his start working in an outpatient clinic in East New York Brooklyn, and, based on the volume of patients coming through its doors, he felt the area was in need of another clinic. “Another Derner graduate, Kirkland Vaughans, M.A. ’79, Ph.D. ’85, and I got together and wrote a proposal that was funded by the city. We opened New Hope Guild-East New York in Brooklyn in 1986,” he said.

Interested in taking on even more organizational responsibility, he took the position of assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Mental Health, and then the regional director of the New York City Regional Office of the New York State Office of Mental Health. “I assisted the director in managing health clinics, hospitals and their programs in the New York City Metropolitan area.” From there, he went on to help manage Brooklyn’s Kingsboro Psychiatric Hospital, and ascended the ranks to executive director of that hospital.

Dr. Palmer then served as chief operating officer for the Generations Plus/Northern Manhattan Network , which included Harlem, Lincoln, and Metropolitan Hospitals and three diagnostic and treatment centers; Renaissance, Morrisania and Belvis.  He had operational responsibility for managing the network’s 9,000 employees.

At that time he was also serving as the executive director of Harlem Hospital Center and its outpatient system, the Renaissance HealthCare Network. This diagnostic and treatment center has 19 sites located throughout the community. During his tenure he had fiscal and operational responsibility for a workforce of more than 3,000 employees and an annual budget of 336 million. He implemented patient safety, revenue enhancement, and cost containment initiatives; and established innovative programs and significantly enhanced the services provided to the Harlem community.  

He said his proudest achievement during his tenure revolved around the renovation and restoration of several murals during the construction of a new hospital building, a 325 million dollar project. “There was a mural program created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s WPA (Works Progress Adminstration) that paid black artists to come together and create murals as a special employment program. Ten murals had been done at Harlem Hospital. Unfortunately several of them were destroyed in the demolition of certain buildings over the years [the murals were commissioned in 1936].”

When Harlem Hospital began the construction of a new Patient Pavilion in 2005, which would connect two existing pavilions to create one large building complex for the hospital, members of the hospital and Harlem community wanted to ensure that the five remaining murals, which had deteriorated over time, be preserved and restored.

In addition to the murals, that now reside in a ground floor mural gallery that can be toured by patients, staff and the public, there is a huge reproduction of the murals on the front of the building for everyone to see day and night. It spans six stories in height and is a street block in length. “These murals are priceless in terms of their value,” he said. “These works of art highlight the time at which they were originally created and maintain the great history of the institution.”

In 2011, Dr. Palmer retired from the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation after serving more than 12 years as the executive director of the Harlem Hospital Center and the Renaissance HealthCare Network. That makes him the longest serving executive director in the history of both institutions.

Upon “retiring,” he was offered the position of director of community affairs and diversity by the Touro School of Osteopathic Medicine, whose mission is to train osteopathic physicians, with a particular emphasis on practicing medicine in underserved communities, and to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine. “Over the next 10 years there’s a great need for primary care physicians. Being able to help produce doctors, in Harlem, was too attractive an opportunity to turn down,” said Dr. Palmer, who was been with Touro since 2012.   

In addition to this role, he continues his private practice and consulting, and serves on the boards of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., and Gotham FQHC, Inc., Public Health Health Planning Council of New York State’s Department of Health.

“Volunteering is an opportunity to give back and continue to use both my organizational and clinical skills to help people,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to see people recover, to look at them work together to try to improve the lives of the people around them.”

Prior to starting the Derner Institute, Dr. Palmer earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois.

Published May 2014

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