By Sam Bojarski
While growing up in a working-class family, Errol Pierre experienced some of the same health issues many young people deal with. But at times, finding treatment for asthma and orthotics for flat feet proved financially burdensome for his parents.
“They weren’t covered under the benefits, so I just walked around with flat feet in pain because we couldn’t afford orthotics. There were just so many things that as a child growing up with my parents’ benefits that I didn’t have access to,” said Pierre, a Haitian-American who lives in the Bronx.
As senior vice president for state programs at Healthfirst ‒ New York state’s largest nonprofit health insurer ‒ Pierre has overseen the implementation of health plans under the Affordable Care Act, designed to insure New Yorkers, including families similar to his own. A dedicated volunteer who has served New Yorkers and the larger Haitian community, Pierre was included on a recent New York Carib News list of Power 100 Caribbean Americans.
The New York Carib News editorial board developed the Power 100 list to celebrate the achievements of community members. Submissions are made on behalf of nominees, who must demonstrate personal achievement in a profession, community engagement and sound character. On July 1, Carib News held a virtual celebration for Power 100 awardees.
From setting up food pantries to providing information and resources about COVID-19, Pierre has worked with a lot of community organizations through Healthfirst, over the past four months. He said this community work likely earned him the nomination.
Pierre first started with Healthfirst in 2012, initially as assistant vice president of product management.
“My job was to lead the cross-functional implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which included all of the Obama-care plans as well. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment. We launched a product called Qualified Health Plans, which are the Obama-care plans that have the different metal levels. We launched a product called the Essential Plan,” Pierre said.
Before briefly leaving Healthfirst in early 2018 for Empire BlueCross BlueShield ‒ where he served as a chief operating officer ‒ Pierre also led an effort to roll out a plan for small business owners. He rejoined Healthfirst as senior vice president for state programs in 2019.
“Errol Pierre is an outstanding, innovative, and energetic executive leader at Healthfirst. He is a sophisticated business professional who also cares deeply about our vulnerable members and the myriad of non-medical barriers to their optimal health. He contributes greatly to the mission of the organization through his clear thinking, vision, ability to partner with others, and his execution, and he was at the forefront of creating innovative digital solutions to remain close to our members even when COVID made us all stay apart,” said Pat Wang, Healthfirst president and CEO, in a statement.
When he needs motivation, Pierre leans on the example of his father Stuart, who came to America from Gonaives, Haiti, in the early 1970s. Along with Pierre’s mother Yolene, Stuart saved enough money to move from Brooklyn to Spring Valley, where the couple raised Errol and his brother, Stuart Pierre Jr.
As Errol Pierre recalled, his father worked a grueling schedule to support the family, waking up at 4 a.m. to work in a restaurant kitchen during breakfast hours. In the early afternoon, he would come home and prepare for his next job, running his own business cleaning offices and homes.
“So he’s my biggest motivator, you know, he didn’t speak the language, and he was in a brand new land that he’d never been in. And I saw him navigate America through all the trials and craziness. And he always was a standup guy, always had a smile on his face … taught me about being the best I can be, taught me the importance of education,” Pierre said about his father.
While Pierre’s father was in a union, accessing certain things like an inhaler and orthotics proved financially burdensome.
“It’s like, just full circle, to be able to be part of bringing New York health care, (while) growing up as a child not being able to have full benefits,” Pierre said.
In addition to his work with Healthfirst, Pierre has volunteered his time as a board member of multiple organizations.
Before joining the board of MediNova, a nonprofit that provides free medical care to residents of northeastern Haiti, Pierre would join the organization on mission trips to the country, said its president, Dr. Henry Paul. The organization currently has an operational COVID-19 treatment unit and primary care building, in the town of Caracol.
MediNova relies on donations, and Pierre has been able to help the organization with its fundraising needs, as a member of the board, Paul said.
“He’s a very bright young man and has added a lot of value to the board, both as a member of the finance committee, and he has a lot of great ideas,” he added.
“He will be an asset to any organization. Anything that he joins, I think he will bring value to,” Paul added.
Pierre is a member of the National Association of Health Service Executives, where he mentors other professionals of color who work in the health care industry. He also serves as a board member of the 100 Black Men Long Island chapter.
“I also work with Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, and they do a ton of work in Brooklyn, and I’m very connected to the doctors in Brooklyn that are providing care, Pierre said.
“So a lot of the work I do is health care related, but that’s the way I kind of keep connected to the Caribbean population in New York City, to all of these different communities,” he added.
At the age of 37, Pierre has made the Power 100 list of Caribbean Americans for the first time.
“I’m humbled to be added. I know a lot of powerhouses in New York of Caribbean heritage, so it’s very humbling to be honored as part of an illustrative group,” he said.
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