Mira Levinson

With JSI since 1998

miralevinson

How did you end up working in public health?

I lived in India during the first year of my life, staying with my maternal grandparents while my parents researched child malnutrition in villages. By age six, I was spending several months each year traveling from Cambridge, Massachusetts to India with my mother, and from there to Bangladesh, where my father worked on nutrition policy. My dad took me to urban slums and hospitals, and to remote villages where he would sometimes let me help weigh the babies.

As a college student in the late 1980s my focus was on access to health care for underserved populations, and I became especially interested in the health disparities here in the U.S. The more I learned, the clearer it became that our failure as a society—the marginalization of those most in need—was epitomized by how we were handling the AIDS epidemic. I took a semester off from college and went to San Francisco to intern for the American Indian AIDS Institute. That experience crystallized my commitment to serve people living with HIV, and subsequent experience has only reinforced it.

Where did you start your career?

In the years that followed, I worked here in Massachusetts coordinating HIV/AIDS outreach workers and later assessing the accuracy of physician-reported AIDS cases, conducted child nutrition research in Guatemalan villages, evaluated a behavioral risk intervention in a Central Harlem STD clinic, and conducted women’s health research in rural Bangladesh.

“The more I learned, the clearer it became that our failure as a society—the marginalization of those most in need—was epitomized by the AIDS epidemic.”

My guess, is JSI happened.

I arrived at JSI in 1998, hired to facilitate technical assistance for providers funded by the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, which funds services for people living with HIV/AIDS who do not have sufficient health coverage or financial support. Over the following years, I moved toward a focus on technical assistance for HIV/AIDS programs and substance abuse treatment programs, with an emphasis on program evaluation and data-system development and implementation. Since 2013 I’ve been the project director for the Affordable Care Enrollment (ACE) TA Center which trains HIV/AIDS service providers to help their clients get health insurance, often for the first time.

Mira and her husband in Yellowstone National Park

Mira and her husband in Yellowstone National Park

How has working at JSI influenced you?

JSI allows me to contribute to projects where I can be most helpful rather than force-fitting me into a specific job description. I sometimes describe myself as a translator, whether between data system developers and program experts, or helping case managers understand complicated health insurance terminology. In this role I am able to draw both on my own expertise and that of my colleagues, while integrating the perspectives of the communities we serve.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Most of all I enjoy participating in critical and creative thinking with my JSI colleagues as we respond to an array of challenging project needs.

A Project to Remember

In 2003 when we were in North Carolina training a group of HIV-positive Ryan White planning council members from across the country, Bryant, one of the participants, fell ill and was taken to the hospital.

At dinner that evening Bryant’s parents arrived, unannounced. They had driven many hours and didn’t know he was in the hospital. We offered them dinner and said they could have Bryant’s hotel room for the night. They accepted a boxed dinner but refused the room, saying they had to get back for a church service. I wondered what sort of church service could be more important than being with their son.

When I next saw Bryant he told me that his parents had been deeply moved by their visit with us. Other than him they had never met anyone living with HIV, and the experience had radically changed not only their perspective about the disease, but their relationship with their son. A year or two later, Bryant passed away.

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