News Column

A Positive Influence

April 2007, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Leanndra Martinez

WOY finalist Carmela Castellano Garcia
WOY finalist Carmela Castellano Garcia

Most people can't have their cake and eat it, too, but don't tell Carmela Castellano-Garcia, a Hispanic Business 2007 Woman of the Year award finalist.

As CEO for the past 10 years of California Primary Care Association (CPCA), an organization of more than 600 nonprofit health care clinics, Ms. Castellano-Garcia has long balanced full plates of work and home responsibilities.

During her term at CPCA, both revenue and the number of patients served at community health centers has increased by more than a third.

Along with her position as CEO, she currently sits on the board of directors for the Chicana/Latina Foundation, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and Capital Link and is a member of the Prevention and Early Intervention Committee of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

As a representative of California's community clinics and health centers, which serve 3.5 million patients a year half of them Hispanic Ms. Castellano-Garcia advocates in Sacramento on behalf of access for the low-income community. Her health care goals include ensuring cultural and linguistic competency, the viability of safety net providers, and reform that allows access to vulnerable populations.

"Being from the community that I'm representing has been a major asset. ... The large numbers of Latinos in our state make it difficult for the broader health care community to ignore this population," she notes. "It's a great time to be a Latino leader in the state. The Latino population is a group that must be reckoned with."


With close to a million people uninsured in California, health care centers are critical something Ms. Castellano-Garcia and the organization emphasizes when leveraging investments from the federal government, state legislature, and the foundation community. Although advocacy has been a challenge because of a difficult fiscal environment for the last several years, she says the organization has been able to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of health centers and has secured funding across the board.

When there was a budget surplus in California in 2000, CPCA jumped on it and secured $50 million from the state legislature and leveraged that to secure an additional $25 million from a local foundation, allowing it to expand the capacity of community clinics throughout the state.

And in 2004 after the Anthem and WellPoint merger, CPCA advocated for investment and secured $35 million.

How does Ms. Castellano-Garcia do it?

"You get one to do it and go to another. We're still leveraging that success for more dollars." As a result, the funding CPCA secured has led to the addition of 1 million more patients than there was a decade ago.

Her greatest business strength lies in the attention she pays to the financial health of CPCA.

"I pay attention to the bottom line and don't leave the details to someone else."

Before joining CPCA, she was the founder and executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), an advocacy organization that tries to improve access to health and human services. At LCHC, Ms. Castellano-Garcia took part in building a statewide coalition of Hispanic health organizations and health care professionals who advocated for health care reform and access to the uninsured. The organization played a significant role in achieving the adoption of cultural and linguistic standards in the state's Medi-Cal program.

Fourteen years ago, she created the multi-ethnic coalition California Pan Ethnic Health Network, which consists of leading Hispanic, Asian, African-American, and Native-American groups in the state, after realizing the importance of not just focusing on one culture.

She was previously a managing attorney with Public Advocates Inc. in San Francisco for six years and has litigated in cases involving employment discrimination and insurance redlining. She also served as chair of the state Department of Health Services' Cultural and Linguistic Standards Task Force from 1995 to 1999 and served on the board of directors of the Public Health Institute, Mission Neighborhood Health Center and the Cal Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness Program.


As a child growing up in San Jose, California, Ms. Castellano-Garcia witnessed her parents' involvement in the local community and remembers political candidates' signs on the family's front lawn, the passage of the landmark tax-cutting measure Proposition 13 which also forced cuts in many public programs, and the disparity in the education system.

"I saw a lot of inequity between the Latino community, the school system, and the white community," Ms. Castellano-Garcia recalls. "Inequity really bothered me."

After graduating from Yale Law School, Ms. Castellano-Garcia worked with minority and under-served communities at a public-interest law firm where she realized that having a Hispanic voice in health care access was a major need in California at the time.

"It was serendipity," she says.

"No matter what I do in the future, I know that it will involve advocating for social justice issues on behalf of the Latino community and other disadvantaged populations, such as women and people of color."

All of this, she says, has influenced how she raises her family.

"I demonstrate how it's a priority in my life, and teaching them to stand up for what they believe in. All we can do is set a good example.

"I'm proud to both be able to do the wonderful work that I am doing and at the same time have a very fulfilling and loving relationship with my family at home," she says. "When I am at work, I am completely focused and committed to the task at hand. I know how to get the job done. At home, I trade in my suit for jeans or sweats and I am completely focused on, and committed to, having fun with my family."

Alongside her husband, Angel Garcia, she is stepmother to 17-year-old Arris Garcia and is raising her 14-year-old niece, Monique Jimenez. She attributes her career success to the support she receives from her husband.

"He has been supportive and understanding about the demands put upon me by my career and has been there for me every step of the way," she says. "He truly believes in me. In fact, he tells me all the time that I should run for governor."


Ms. Castellano-Garcia is quick to acknowledge fellow female business leaders who have served as mentors. "There have been a few women, in particular, who have provided me not only with sage advice, but have served as a support system for me during challenging times. ... Their confidence has inspired me to strive to achieve new heights."

Jane Garcia, executive director of La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, California, has been such a mentor.

"She's constantly striving to better herself," Ms. Garcia responds. "I've seen her go out and solicit feedback from people. Some people are timid and would shy away from that, but not Carmela. She keeps growing and growing and constantly amazes people with her ability to make change and influence policy."

Ms. Castellano-Garcia's fearlessness in business is a trait that has been recognized by her peers and is something that not only distinguishes her from other leaders, Ms. Garcia adds.

The CEO also credits Sherry Hirota, executive director of Asian Health Services in Oakland, California, and Adela de la Torre, director and professor at University of California Davis's Chicana/o Studies program, for giving her the courage to take risks.

"It helps to be that risk taker. I'm not afraid to fail," she says. "Given my way of thinking, there is no obstacle that is too large to overcome. In fact, overcoming obstacles is what I do for a living. And it's fun."

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine and, Copyright (c) 2006 All Rights Reserved.

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