Women seek out Veronica Kim wherever she goes. She’s approached at church. People stop her on the street. She answers calls at all hours from women she’s never met, but who have heard she can help. As one of the Asian American community’s most trusted health advocates, Kim is used to fielding questions from unexpected places.
But soon, she will pass this torch to an up and coming generation of health workers.
Kim retires this month after more than two decades of service to International Community Health Services (ICHS), where she has spent her career working to level health disparities in breast, ovarian, cervical and colon cancer fatality rates among Asian Pacific Islander (API) and minority women.
Kim started as a family health worker for ICHS in 1993, when the regional health center was still a small clinic in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered funding for a program to increase breast cancer screenings for API immigrant women, Veronica was tasked with enrollment – knocking on doors to make home visits, going to churches and community organizations, and patiently waiting at neighborhood venues and businesses to talk to women.
Her impact upon King County’s women of color, and in particular the Asian American community, has been immeasurable. Her work formed the backbone of ICHS’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Health Program (BCCHP), which connected nearly 2,600 low income people with life-saving screenings and treatment in 2017. Kim also brought the Swedish Cancer Institute’s Mobile Mammography Program to ICHS in 2007 after discovering many women were not making it to their mammogram referrals. Bringing the mobile mammogram clinic direct to ICHS locations reduced a number of challenges for immigrant and low income women, giving help with scheduling, and reducing transportation and language barriers.
“There is no appropriate value that can be assigned to Veronica’s work within the community,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO. “When women and their families are scared and uncertain, unsure of where to turn or whom to trust, she is the breast health expert, and social and health service resource, and pillar of Seattle’s broader Asian American community.”
Kim was an early pioneer in addressing minority health within Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
“Many health education materials did not exist in languages other than English in those early years,” said Rana Amini, ICHS health advocacy manager. “Veronica created a library of resources from scratch so the women portrayed in pamphlets reflected the age and ethnicity of her target audiences. She ensured the availability of translation, interpretation and accurate information to empower ICHS patients to make informed, life-saving decisions about their health.”
Veronica also established in-language health fairs for the Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese-speaking communities – bringing health services directly to people within their communities, at no cost. She enrolled women in health insurance and programs for those that could not afford it.
Her work also became deeply personal. When she became a cancer patient and survivor herself, she became even more aware of the challenges faced by those she had served.
“My own experience with breast cancer treatment inspired me to give the best case management possible,” said Kim. “I have been through every step so I know what our patients are thinking and feeling.”
“Veronica inspires us all to do better,” said Ron Chew, ICHS foundation director. “I know very few people who are as optimistic and compassionate as she is. She has a warm smile and kind words to offer those around her.”
Veronica has also been an annual participant and major organizer of ICHS’s fundraising team for the Susan G. Komen Puget Sound Race for the Cure. For more than 15 years, she inspired a high level of participation among ICHS staff.
“Veronica put her heart and soul into building our women’s program,” said Batayola. “She’s changed some women’s lives forever. Because of her, Susan G. Komen has funded us close to 20 years, and continued to fund ICHS’s breast health program beyond their normal five-year cycle. She is one of a kind and I hope she continues to walk with us at Race for the Cure.”
Veronica says she doesn’t plan to leave all of her commitments behind.
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful, dedicated and amazing group of people for the past 25 years. During my tenure at ICHS I have learned so much. ICHS will always be a special place for me,” said Kim. “I’m excited about what’s ahead and plan to spend some time traveling. I leave soon for a trip to Korea and Hawaii. But even after retirement I will continue to advocate for and work with women.”