Stephen Tang didn’t start out with a burning desire to establish a community health center for the Asian immigrant community in Boston. He had little in common with most Chinatown residents and little knowledge of community health care issues. Tang was a newcomer from Illinois and with his degree in Electrical Engineering had settled into a career in the telecommunications industry.
He did, however, want to do something. His parents were immigrants from China and he wanted to assist the community in some way. In 1979, Tang joined the Chinese Community Health Projects Task Force, as the need for appropriate health care for the low-income, non-English speaking community in Chinatown became a critical issue. It was through the efforts of this Task Force that in 1972, Boston Chinese Community Health Services (which later became South Cove Community Health Center) was established with a mission to provide bilingual, culturally competent and affordable health services for its residents. More than a quarter century later, South Cove provides 75,000 clinic visits and more than 20 preventative health care programs out of six sites, is a major Chinatown employer and is an important advocate for the continued health and welfare for the residents of Chinatown.
“Tang’s interest has developed into a devotion to ensure access to health care for the Asian community, which spans nearly 30 years, described Peggy Leong, Executive Director, South Cove Community Health Center. “From his membership on the Task Force, to his current office as Treasurer of the Board of Directors, Tang has been South Cove’s leader, motivator and conscience.”
Over the years, Tang has held every Board office, multiple times. He has represented South Cove in its fight for community benefits from a local hospital. His role of historian plays a major part in clarifying issues.
His dedication to the effort is demonstrated best through his actions. In 1972, Tang took a three-month leave of absence from his job to oversee the start-up of clinic operations. His interest also led him to a new career. His four years of medical school were the only break he has taken from active support of South Cove.
Most recently, Dr. Tang and other members of the board formed a “transition committee” which effectively ran the health center after the executive director left. For six months, until a new director was hired, Tang and his colleagues spend hundreds of hours ensuring health center operations and its mission remained intact.
“Tang considers himself the ‘old man’ of the board,” remarked Leong. “We think ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ describe him better.”