"Free and low-cost health care exists in this country, but millions of Americans can’t access it because providers are overburdened and underfunded,” says Cesar Herrera, CEO and co-founder of Yuvo Health. “This inevitably harms historically underserved communities who already face disproportionate health outcomes.”
On a mission to change this narrative, Herrera plans to equip community health centers with the financial support and resources they need to not only improve their operations and attain independence, but scale their services and ensure that patients are getting the quality care they need to thrive.
Upon meeting Herrera, you wouldn’t know that he considered dropping out of college in his freshman year. He has collected three degrees from three prestigious universities – University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and the Stern School of Business – and moved strategically through his career with intention and purpose, rising to numerous leadership roles and now, CEO of Yuvo Health.
Twenty years ago, Herrera didn’t even know these career opportunities existed and he certainly didn’t believe they were available to him.
After immigrating to the United States from the Philippines at the age of three, Herrera spent many years moving from state to state, eventually settling into predominantly working class neighborhoods in and around Detroit. His parents took on various jobs to support the family, including cleaning offices late into the night. When he was older, Herrera joined his parents on these work trips – an experience that taught him the value of hardwork, but also brought feelings of shame and embarrassment, as he knew other families didn’t have to work so hard to survive in this country.
Herrera understood early on that his socioeconomic status had a direct influence on his life – a realization that would later inform his career choices, but at the time, made him believe that the path to success was very narrow.
Facing his predetermined future at nineteen, Herrera felt constrained by cultural and societal expectations, and seriously considered leaving school. Until he met a Filipino American professor who became his greatest advocate, he felt lost. Not only did this professor demolish the traditional stereotypes, but she demonstrated an alternative version of success – and this empowered Herrera to expand his vision and change his direction.
Compelled by his own lived experiences, Herrera went on to study the impact of race, class, and gender on health and majored in Sociology and Ethnic Studies. Seeing firsthand how historically disenfranchised and low-income communities were negatively impacted by systemic constructs, Herrera made it his guiding mission to be an advocate and protector of these communities – and every one of his career choices has been made with this intention in mind – but without guidance from his parents and his community, Herrera had to forge his own way forward.
And he certainly has.
Herrera has worked across the public and private sectors, with experiences spanning healthcare policy, finance, business and network development, and competitive strategy. He has worked on Medicare policy, developed programs for HIV initiatives, managed value-based strategies for an insurance company, and even had a one-year stint in investment banking. He has worked for many years to try and become the leader he’d wanted to look to in his own community, but somewhere along the way found himself asking, “What am I doing all of this for?”
Taking a leadership role at a healthcare startup, Herrera worked alongside like-minded individuals to develop solutions and programs that helped remove social barriers to healthcare and social services for low-income, at-risk communities. This was everything he had set out to do, but over time, he felt unfulfilled and, once again, constrained. While the work itself proved fulfilling, the future direction of the company was out of his control.
“I never thought entrepreneurship was an option to me,” Herrera admits. “But in order to make the most impactful change at a local level, I knew I had to do so on my own terms.”
The idea behind Yuvo wasn’t just an idea. It has stemmed from Herrera’s long-held belief that healthcare is an undeniable right that everyone should be granted access to – and after discussing Yuvo in between meetings and on work trips with co-founder Janel Sia, Herrera knew that it was time to make their vision a reality.
Rather than reinvent the way healthcare is delivered, Yuvo is focused solely on supporting FQHCs who have been working on the ground for decades to serve traditionally underserved communities. These life-changing health centers haven’t received the recognition or the resources they need to meet the high demand, Herrera recognized, but Yuvo could change this.
“Right now, zip codes and annual incomes dictate how long we live, but this shouldn’t be the case. When we invest in local communities, we invest in generational change,” Herrera says. “Yuvo is just a small part of the larger mission to eliminate health disparities and ensure that we all have equal access to a long, healthy life.”
A pragmatic leader and decision-maker, Herrera wouldn’t have founded a company unless he believed, wholeheartedly, in its mission. By providing FQHCs with administrative services and a managed-care contracting engine, he aims to help these health centers unlock revenue streams through value-based care without burdening them with the daunting investment and operational hardships.
“I’m confident that I’m working on implementing practical, meaningful, and important change in communities like my own,” Herrera says. “I’m privileged to be in the position I’m in and I know my teenage self would be shocked – and proud – to see me now.”