SAN JOSE - For more than 36 years, Reymundo Espinoza has led an effort to expand affordable health care for some of the poorest people living in the South Bay.
Long before he opened new doors to quality community healthcare, Espinoza endured some tough times growing up in Coachella Valley.
He was one of six children raised by a single father, a farmworker.
"My mom, when I was 10, was in a mental institution," Espinoza said. "My sister became my mom, then she died at 20 as a result of toxemia."
"Later on, my younger brother died of a heart attack at 34. My Dad died at 65 from a stroke," he continued.
These past tragedies helped shape his future.
"It took me a lot to understand the challenges that I went through, so that I could basically convert that anger into something positive," Espinoza said.
He transformed anger to hope, graduating from Stanford with a political science degree before undergoing graduate studies in hospital administration at Cal Berkeley.
In 1986, he became CEO of Gardner Health Services in San Jose.
"Health care is a means to another end, which is keeping people healthy so they can fulfill their dreams," Espinoza said.
Gardner started in the 1960s to provide health care to farmworkers who had none. When Espinoza took over, he grew the small nonprofit into 10 sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
Today, Gardner's two mobile clinics and community health centers provide one-stop affordable services to more than 43,000 low income folks who are insured and uninsured.
Board member Dr. Noe Pablo Lozano says Reymundo's impact is immeasurable.
"He's been able to make decisions under uncertainty. That for me is the mark of a true leader," Lozano said.
That strength was especially evident during COVID when Gardner offered free testing and vaccines to thousands of patients.
Carmen Gonzalez credits Gardner's doctors for helping her and her husband control their diabetes. She doesn't know where else they would've turned for preventive medical, dental and mental health care.
Now, Carmen serves on the nonprofit's board, supporting Espinoza's vision.
"He has a kind heart. He's always there for everybody in the community," said Gonzalez.
We asked Espinoza if Gardner was a way to provide other families with what he didn't have growing up.
"I'm hoping we do that," he said. "I'm glad we're giving hope. I wish we could do more."
So for expanding health care so the South Bay's underserved can live healthy lives, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Reymundo Espinoza.
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