Dr. Pedro José Greer, Jr.'s Philanthropy Supports Community-Based Solutions

Donor Profile: Dr. Pedro José Greer, Jr.

Dr. Pedro José "Joe" Greer, Jr., has a plan for the future of health care—one that looks far beyond hospitals and office visits and delivers wellness at street level, in neighborhoods, even in individual households.

Joe Greer, whose service to RAND spans nearly 30 years of advisory and leadership roles, has the passion and the pull to carry out such a change. He's a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's “genius grant,” and the author of a book on caring for the homeless called Waking Up in America.

What he shares with RAND, he said, is a commitment to improving lives, and to the search for better ways to help those most in need. “It lets me realize that there is great optimism in the world, to know that an institution like RAND exists,” he said.

Greer has been closely involved in RAND's health-policy work since the late 1980s, when he served as an early advisor to the Drug Policy Research Center. He currently serves on the RAND Health Board of Advisors and on the RAND Board of Trustees. He's the chairman of the Pardee RAND Graduate School Board of Governors.

He also has channeled his compassion for those in need into philanthropic support to help RAND address the health issues and disparities he sees every day. His gifts also have supported Pardee RAND graduate students to become the future leaders and innovators of public policy.

“As things go on in the world and I become worried, it's always nice to have an anchor like RAND that looks purely at the evidence, at the facts.”

His medical career has followed a path he set for himself when he was still an intern in Miami, treating a man dying of tuberculosis whose records listed no known address, not even a name. Greer went looking for answers and discovered an entire community living in desperation and squalor under the city's highways. The experience convinced him to set up a clinic that now serves thousands of homeless patients every year. He also founded a primary-care clinic for disadvantaged children and adults in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

“It's a life that might be distilled into a question Dr. Greer asks all of us,” President Barack Obama said as he awarded Greer the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2009. “If we don't fight injustice, who will?”

Greer now serves as the associate dean for community engagement at Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. There, he has helped pioneer an approach to medicine that he describes as household centered. It embeds small teams of medical, law, and social-work students in the neighborhoods of Miami to get to know people where they live, and the social conditions directing their health.

He brought in RAND researchers to evaluate the program, after early results suggested it reduced emergency-room visits by nearly two-thirds. The researchers developed a way to measure outcomes based more on observation than on the intrusive surveys so common in health work, a gentler approach to people in their own homes.

Greer also has sent young faculty members from disadvantaged groups to Pardee RAND as part of a program that offers crash-course introductions to policy analysis. Many of them are first-generation college graduates from Latin America or Africa.

He describes RAND as “an American treasure—a spectacular place.”

“They take their responsibility, that we're here for the public good, extremely seriously,” he said. “For too long, leaders in this country have had an opinion and then looked for the facts to back them up.

“As things go on in the world and I become worried, it's always nice to have an anchor like RAND that looks purely at the evidence, at the facts.”