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Moving Mountains at MCN: Karen Mountain Receives Lifetime Achievement Award, MCN Launches Moving Mountains Campaign in Her Honor

Karen Mountain and Kim Nolte
MCN's Karen Mountain and Kim Nolte at the ceremony honoring Karen's contributions in the field of migrant health.

The incredible career of Karen Mountain, MBA, MSN, RN, the first-ever Chief Executive Officer of Migrant Clinicians Network, has been defined by her dedication to ensuring migrants can access culturally relevant health care, in a world that erects innumerable barriers to get that care. Mountain’s recent retirement has brought appreciation and recognition, culminating with her receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Migrant Health bestowed by The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) which she received earlier today. The award honors individuals who made an indelible mark on the field of migrant health—a designation which Mountain met beyond measure, according to Ed Zuroweste, MD, MCN’s Founding Medical Director, who nominated her for the award.

“This Lifetime Achievement Award in Migrant Health means she spent her career doing excellent work trying to improve the health of migrant farmworkers,” Dr. Zuroweste explained. “That’s a huge accomplishment, she deserves it, because [under her leadership] MCN has become a major force in helping improve the lives of migrant farmworkers. As she was the leader of this organization, such a recognition is so well deserved.”

A close friend of several decades, Dr. Zuroweste provided a heartfelt nomination that outlines some of the highlights of MCN’s work under Mountain’s direction. Karen’s vision and direction are credited for MCN’s efforts to train thousands of clinicians across the United States on cutting-edge issues in migrant health. “And Karen is at the heart of MCN’s work.” Health Network’s efforts to connect thousands of migrants, and counting, to the health care they need, is also underscored.

Karen Mountain with Roxana Pineda and Jimena De Leija
Karen (middle) and Jimena De Leija (right) attend the celebration of MCN's Roxana Pineda (left) and her work with the Ventanillas de Salud.

“That program has expanded dramatically in recent years, with Karen’s support, to serve asylum seekers who need urgent medical care as they are released from detention, including hundreds of pregnant women moving all across the nation,” Dr. Zuroweste wrote. 

For Mountain, the award caps off a lifetime of service. Born and raised in a family of providers, she felt drawn to the field from an early age. She ultimately found herself working in emergency rooms, where she proved to be particularly attentive to cases of trauma. While she excelled at providing such critical care, her lifelong passion emerged during her time as a nurse in the United Farm Workers' clinic, where she discovered her calling for serving migrant workers. The experience of working with this population opened her eyes to the unique health care needs of migrant communities and the systemic injustices that impact their health outcomes. This path also brought her into contact with Deliana Garcia, now serving as MCN’s Chief Program Officer of Emerging Issues and International Relations, who eventually became her first employee at MCN and close friend.

“Karen was working with a a farmworker-specific version of Healthy People titled Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers’ Health Objectives for the Year 2000,” Garcia explained. “Right away, she stood out. She had been a nurse on the north face of Alaska, she’d been in rural health, she’d been an ER nurse. She uniquely understood urgency, marginality, and intersectionality. It was really wonderful to get to know her and get to work with her in those early days, and realize that this is a person who would always give my ideas a fair hearing and consideration.”

Karen and Ed Zuroweste
Karen Mountain and Ed Zuroweste at a meeting of the original MCN Board.

The board of the nascent Migrant Clinicians Network selected Mountain to become its founding CEO in 1986.  Mountain’s initial agenda focused on expanding the organization's reach and impact, often while managing impossible disputes and incredible difficulties that could have led to the nonprofit’s end before it had even really begun, according to Dr. Zuroweste.

“The very first few years, many, many people said that this organization was going to fail, and there was even a fairly concerted effort to make us fail, as certainly we were not getting help from other folks,” he said. “In fact, when I was the Board Chair, we had a time where we had zero money in our bank account, and we had to do some very creative board activities to just pay the rent. It was her ability to keep the organization afloat early on, and then grow it tremendously, without ever laying off anyone. That’s a huge accomplishment…As the leader, much of the credit goes to her.”

Under Mountain’s leadership, MCN has grown into a global network of health care providers, advocates, and researchers, working tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of migrant populations worldwide. The credit for this, many feel, rests with Mountain herself.

“It is a testament to her enduring legacy,” Garcia explained. “I believe she has really walked this earth for so long trying very hard to do everything in her power to make it better. Through her leadership, Karen has been so instrumental in advancing the rights of migrant workers, improving access to health care services, and addressing the systemic barriers that affect the health outcomes of migrant populations.”

In addition to her recent Lifetime Achievement Award, she has been recognized with numerous other honors throughout her career, including the Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarianism and the Manuel C. Carballo Award for Excellence in Leadership in Latino Health. Described as a leader who leads with integrity, Mountain has been a mentor and role model to countless individuals in the field of migrant health, dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of others, including her employees—and those aspiring to continue her legacy.

Deliana Garcia and Karen Mountain
MCN's Deliana Garcia and Karen Mountain

“Karen is such a tireless advocate for others who is held in high regard by those that know her, especially those she leads,” Kim Nolte, MPH, MCHES, Mountain’s successor and current CEO, said. “Her contributions to the field and her capabilities cannot be overstated.”

Nolte’s observations were echoed by Rob Shelly, MD, the current chair of MCN’s Board of Directors, who praised Mountain’s lasting impact via “tremendous contributions to the field,” and describes her as a “leader, [truly] loved by all.”

As a celebration of her indelible impact on migrant health, MCN is looking to honor her with the Moving Mountains with MCN campaign, including the introduction of the Founders Circle—an invitation for any supporter of MCN to join a select group of investors by contributing at least $1,000 a year for three years.

“No matter the problem was that we were faced with, she was always resilient. She has made the organization a resilient organization, and it is a great legacy,” Dr. Zuroweste said. “If we could always remain resilient, and always mission-driven, that would be paying homage to Karen Mountain.” The Moving Mountains campaign, named in her honor, seeks to do just that – honor Karen’s legacy while fortifying our resilience by building a circle of donors dedicated to ensuring MCN’s longevity.

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