• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

Dr Barbara Herbert, public health ‘changemaker’ for at-risk and marginalized people, dies at 73

ByRandall B. Phelps

May 17, 2022

Dr. Herbert, whose medical advocacy ranged from helping found a pioneering lesbian health clinic in New York to advocating for safe injection sites in Massachusetts for intravenous drug addicts, was 73 when she died of respiratory arrest and chronic asthma April 23 at his Cambridge home.

“She was a changemaker to the end,” said his wife, Jean Flatley McGuire, A teacher of practice at Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences, who previously served as assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“Barbara was tough; she was smart,” McGuire added. “She was inspiring on every level.”

Dr. Herbert spent his early years in Greater Boston completing a fellowship from Harvard University and working at Boston City Hospital and Fenway Community Health Center. She specialized in emergency medicine and was a leader in the response to domestic violence.

Most recently, she served as Medical Director at the Addiction Unit at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and at the New England Addiction Treatment Center in Brighton. Four years ago, Dr. Herbert joined Column healthand she has testified before Congress and at the State Chamber.

In the later part of her career, she worked hard to ensure drug addicts received good medical care, which was often unavailable in the past to an at-risk population that many members of society ignore. or mock.

The former president of the Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine, which is the state chapter of the national society, in 2017 she called for Massachusetts to open clinics where drug addicts could inject under medical supervision.

“It’s counterintuitive to let people do something illegal and dangerous in a safer setting,” she told the Boston Globe in 2017, amid an opioid crisis that national centers control and prevention of diseases estimated to have resulted. nearly 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019.

“But in fact, there’s good scientific and epidemiological evidence that it saves lives,” Dr Herbert said, “and we’re in such a terrible epidemic that anything that saves lives, we want to embrace.”

In a resolution passed after her death, the Massachusetts Medical Society House of Delegates called Dr Herbert a “courageous champion of the vulnerable.”

In particular, the resolution noted that she “had a passion for treating new mothers with substance use disorders and was a strong advocate for reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.”

With the state medical society, her work included serving on several committees, including those focused on violence intervention and prevention, LGBTQ issues, global health, and the Access Task Force. to medical care.

“Dr. Herbert was an expert in the field of emergency medicine and addiction medicine with more than 30 years of patient care, teaching and mentoring physicians,” the resolution reads, adding that she “was a great friend, colleague and mentor”.

His extensive work with patients and training new physicians was only part of Dr. Herbert’s commitment. She has also found time to work with other activists to challenge the language used – words such as junkie or drug addict – to denigrate those for whom drug use is a lifelong medical condition.

“The biggest thing we trade is hope,” she told The Globe in 2016. “Our biggest enemy is despair. That’s why I think language matters a lot.

The eldest of two sisters, Barbara Arnold was born August 17, 1948 and grew up in Towson, Maryland.

In a Documenting Lesbian Lives Oral History Project interview at Smith College, conducted by Carmen Pullella, Dr. Herbert recalled that she was not close to her parents. His mother, Louise Powell Arnold, struggled with mental illness, and Dr. Herbert’s burgeoning leftist politics as a teenager led to “terrible, terrible fights” with his father, William Arnold, an engineer.

After graduating from high school, Dr. Herbert went to Wellesley College and left after just over a year.

Although she didn’t complete her A-levels, she recalled that she “learned to read critically ‘at Wellesley’ and choose things to read that would advance the way I thought, and that’s invaluable”.

She then spent time as an anti-war activist in South Carolina, including serving with a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. She helped some conscripts “look crazy” to avoid being sent to Vietnam, and drove others across the border to Canada.

During parts of her activism, “people shot at me,” she said. “I don’t care if they shoot me. A few times in my life it has happened.

Her marriage at this time, to a conscientious objector, ended in divorce and she kept Herbert as her surname.

When she and others started an effort to help women in conservative South Carolina travel north for safe abortions, “we thought we’d get 20 people,” but ended up helping about 250. , she recalls.

“People came forward telling stories of incest, mothers saying they would do anything to be able to abort their children,” she said in the oral history. “It was extraordinary.”

Moving to New York, she became a lesbian, worked in an underground newspaper, and co-founded the St. Mark’s Women’s Health Collective in the mid-1970s.

“We didn’t use the word lesbian in our name because we didn’t want to exclude anyone who couldn’t afford to be outside.” she wrote“and a lot of people at that time couldn’t.”

Based on her life experience, she was accepted into what is now the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY, from where she earned a medical degree.

Additional medical training took Dr. Herbert to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston.

Dr Herbert and McGuire were a couple for many years before becoming the 10th couple to marry, in May 2004after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

“She was tough, she was demanding, she was visionary, she was political. She went through all of this movement activity with a fierce sense of justice,” McGuire said.

“And she came up with 10 footnotes for everything,” McGuire added with a laugh. “It might be difficult to argue with her.”

In addition to McGuire, Dr. Herbert leaves behind a daughter, Lainey Polikoff of San Diego; two stepchildren, Daniel McGuire of Medford and Megan McGuire of New York and Melbourne; one sister, Beth Arnold of Austin, Texas; and a grandson.

A celebration of the life and work of Dr. Herbert will be announced.

Although her health deteriorated for months, she continued her advocacy for the marginalized until her final days.

As her physical abilities diminished, Dr. Herbert continued to find ways to stay vital: talking with patients on the phone, participating in Zoom meetings, even when it required the help of others.

“She was amazing staying fierce and accepting help,” McGuire said. “It was wonderful to still be surprised in the last days of her life. I would wish that on everyone.


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.