Gil Muñoz | University of Portland

Gil Muñoz

Gil Muñoz, Chief Executive Officer at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, credits his parents with instilling in him the values of social justice and Catholic social teaching. Growing up in the Washington, DC, area in the 1970s, he joined his father to raise funds for the United Farmworkers March. They had a family connection to this issue; Muñoz’s grandfather, who was originally from Mexico, worked on farms in California and Montana. Muñoz ended up devoting his education and career to finding answers to the question: “What might be some positive solutions to get at the roots of inequity?” Today this inspiration manifests in the mission of the health care organization he leads, which aims to give high quality, culturally appropriate, trauma-informed wraparound care to the marginalized. Many in Virginia Garcia’s patient population are uninsured farmworkers who have a nationwide life expectancy of 49. When he started at Virginia Garcia 30 years ago, they operated out of a three-car garage that had been converted into a clinic, a building that he says was “a hodgepodge of duct tape and chewing gum.” The patient population was at 7,000; today it is 52,000. In 2010, they built a new flagship clinic, the Cornelius Wellness Center, which offers health care, a dental clinic, and classes. Virginia Garcia now has 17 sites, patients that speak 60 different languages, and approximately 600 employees. They have opened five school-based health clinics, five primary care clinics, and six dental clinics. Their services have become even more important during the pandemic, a time when patients in the populations Virginia Garcia serves were getting sick more than four times the rate of the overall population. This spring, with government vaccine allocations, Virginia Garcia was hoping to vaccinate more than 30,000 patients in 12 weeks, which was so important for a population of essential workers who may not have insurance and may have financial pressures to go to work while sick. With public health wraparound services, clinicians and social workers are able to connect people not only with vaccines but to services and support such as the Oregon Worker Relief Fund. Under Muñoz’s leadership the organization has definitely grown, but the mission has stayed the same and staff retention remains high. Muñoz talks about working for Virginia Garcia as a more than a job but a “vocation—living out how you want to be in the world.”