Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Hayes

Dr. Leslie A. Hayes, deputy commissioner of the Division of Family and Child Health in the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, spoke with the Amsterdam News recently about her role, the Division of Family and Child Health, and health resources for children and families in NYC. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

AmNews: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Background: I am a Harlemite by birth, born and raised on 139th Street. I went to high school in the Bronx at the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula. After that, I did my undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, then came back to New York, to the medical school at what was called Mount Sinai at the time (and is) now the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

After medical school, I did my residency in pediatrics at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, which is affiliated with the George Washington University. After my pediatric residency, I did a fellowship in adolescent medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry with Doctor Robert Johnson, who, I’m very proud to say, was the first Black male trained in adolescent medicine. Then I came back to New York to do the rest of my medical career between Brooklyn and the Bronx.

AmNews: Can you talk to us a bit about what got you interested in a medical career?

I witnessed first-hand how social determinants of health, health disparities, and inequities impacted families and communities. I was very fortunate to have a pediatrician and mentor by the name of Frederick Greene, who was considered a social activist back in the day and also provided quality, comprehensive healthcare to citizens of Harlem. He had his private practice on 116th Street. He went on to be appointed by the Johnson administration to the Office of Child Development at the Department of Health and Education and Welfare, and he really inspired me to want to be a pediatrician and to be a social activist in my community. 

I’m very passionate about bringing positive change and improving healthcare outcomes and communities. You know, I’ve served for over 30 years as a clinician—someone on the first line, having an impact on the lives of children and their families—and I’ve done that primarily in Brooklyn.  

AmNews: Could you talk about your work as a pediatrician and how it informs your current work?

I am an adolescent medicine specialist. I describe it as a pediatrician who has done more training and focuses primarily on providing healthcare to adolescents and young adults—adolescents and young adults between the ages of 11 and 21. The focus of adolescence medicine is ideally to provide support for young adolescents and young adults to be educated. 

[I’ve also done] a lot of program implementation that relates to school health, empowering students in schools, as well as educating young adults and adolescents about sexual reproductive health and education with counseling and parenting in those areas.  

My position currently is as deputy commissioner of the Division of Family Child Health in the New York City Department of Health. Basically in that position, I’m part of a team of other health professionals whose vision is to provide affordable quality care that’s equitable and culturally competent to New York City. Not only children, but New York City families as well. As deputy commissioner, I’m able to do that with a team and be more effective.

AmNews: The last question I have for you has to do basically with resources available to support parents and families with young children.

There are a ton of excellent services. The Division of Family and Child Health comprises four bureaus. One is the Bureau of Maternal and Infant Reproductive health. The other is the Bureau of Early Intervention. The third is the Office of School Health, and then there’s the Bureau of Administration

In the Bureau of Maternal and Infant Reproductive Health, there’s the maternal child health unit, there’s a sexual reproductive health unit, and there is the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Network in that unit as well.

A more recently launched program that came about as a response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade is our abortion access hub. It is a call-in center where anyone, not only in New York City or New York State, but even out of state, can call in and receive confidential, no-cost support. [The phone number is 877-692-2482.]

We also have resources for new parents. Mothers who are just delivering their first child can be referred for home visiting services where someone will support them and their significant other in setting up cribs, teaching them about breastfeeding, supporting them in getting to their well-child visits. All of that is under our new family home visiting services, and that is another resource that I think is important for families to know about. 

We have services in the Office of School Health, which is another bureau within the Division of Family Child Health. I think what’s important for parents to know is the ability to get services, medical care, and preventive health screening from the school. 

The Office of School Help is responsible for promoting the health of those students and getting them enrolled in our schools that have school-based clinics. We have nurses in every school who provide case management for chronic diseases like diabetes. There’s preventive health screening, as well as urgent care counseling and contraceptive counseling.  

In providing service to not just a few families, but to New York City as a whole, we are dedicated to giving every family in New York City the best start in their life, which is what I tried to do as a pediatrician, as well as provide support.

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