Chief Managed Care Officer and co-founder Carmelo Cruz Reyes didn’t set his sights on a career in healthcare, nor did he intend to become a leader in the field; he simply wanted to lift himself out of poverty. Now, more than 20 years later, he’s in his dream role, supporting his family, and giving a voice to the agencies that directly serve vulnerable and medically disenfranchised populations.
“My purpose in life is to serve,” says Reyes, who brings compassion and understanding to every business decision he makes. He knows that, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings and we all have the same basic needs.
Growing up right outside of New York City in Jersey City during the early 80s, Reyes witnessed gang violence, drug use, and the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, an illness which three of his siblings have battled and survived. His mother, a single parent, was focused on survival and ensuring that Reyes was fed, housed, protected, and supported by government programs where necessary. She never put specific pressures on him to succeed, which allowed him the freedom to imagine a future beyond the world he knew.
Reyes thought he might become a corporate lawyer. Though he had little guidance and no resources, Reyes received encouragement from a sixth grade teacher to maximize his academic achievements. He went on to attend McNair Academic High School, a magnet public high school in Jersey City, then Georgetown University. At Georgetown, Reyes was made keenly aware of his minority status, having experienced racial discrimination and anti-gay harrassment while on campus. Buoyed by the rigorous academic experience he received and the deep friendships he forged while at Georgetown, Reyes quickly realized, in the face of adversity, he had to lay a solid foundation of determination and perseverance for himself to stand on if he were ever to achieve the success he desired to lift himself out of poverty.
Opportunity knocked for Reyes to venture on the path of greater financial stability with a job offer that took him to Tokyo right after graduating from Georgetown. After spending several years in Japan working for large corporations and earning the kind of money he had only dreamed of, Reyes began to yearn for work that truly aligned with his passion to create the change in the world that he hoped to see for vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. This led Reyes to quit his job and take his life savings to Thailand to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. As a volunteer with grassroots community-based organizations, Reyes witnessed the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on families living in abject poverty. These experiences reminded him of a time when he almost lost his older brother to AIDS. “I saw, firsthand, the ravages of HIV/AIDs, when the diagnosis was a near death sentence,” says Reyes.
“In the early 90s, my older brother had been living with AIDS for close to 10 years and decompensated to a point where he was so tired he no longer had the vigor to live. He had gone through every medication, to no avail. So he sold his health insurance and bought all of us Christmas gifts, thinking it would be our last holiday together. Shortly after, his primary care doctor recommended a new medication to him and this ultimately saved his life,” Reyes explains. “I carry that with me every day – and having experienced the critical importance of public health care and its impact on my life and the people that surround me, I know that I’m meant to do this work.”
Reyes’ work in Thailand jump-started his public health career. After Thailand, he moved to New York City, where he continued to work in HIV/AIDS prevention and care; earned an MPH from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy; joined the Board of Directors of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center; and ventured into the Health Plan space where he focused on FQHC value-based contracting. Given this life trajectory, it is now no surprise to Reyes that he leads value-based contracting on behalf of FQHCs as Yuvo Co-Founder and Chief Managed Care Officer at Yuvo.
“I would have never predicted the trajectory of my life and I certainly never imagined myself as a founder, but I am an eternal optimist and have always believed in following my inner compass, which I knew would lead me to great things,” says Reyes. “Now, I’m in a position where I can truly serve those who have not historically had a voice, especially around their own medical needs.”
Being a part of the Yuvo team, Reyes is honored to create a space that’s going to help so many people pull themselves and their families out of poverty. “The work we’re doing today, as four founding members who are all people of color from humble backgrounds, we’re, no doubt, going to ignite change for generations to come.”