By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Since November 2022, Kelli Nomura has been settling into her new position as CEO of International Community Health Services (ICHS). Nomura took over the position from Teresita Batayola—who still serves as ICHS President Emeritus—in time to usher ICHS into its 50th anniversary year, and beyond.
“I’m thrilled to be in this role and to be with this organization,” Nomura told the Weekly. She has been striving the past few months to become familiar with ICHS’s many programs and services and over 600 staff. “As you can imagine, there’s a lot to learn!”
Nomura came to ICHS most recently from her position as director for the Behavioral Health and Recovery Division of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services. Her passion throughout her career has been ensuring access to health care and the melding of behavioral health care and primary health care. And that’s where ICHS is headed as well. After serving almost 12 years on ICHS’s board, Nomura was confident that their goals aligned.
“I was looking to make sure that…I was able to contribute [to] an organization that allowed me to continue my interest in integrating health care,” especially “whole person care” which means “not treating the head and the body separately.”
Attention turned more and more to mental wellness during the pandemic. For AAPIs, Nomura acknowledged that mental health is “not something that is readily acknowledged and naturally sought out, so I think we have a huge role in reducing the stigma around that and providing resources in a way that is easy to access, meets the person where they are, and demonstrates that one’s mental health is just as important as one’s physical health.” It’s this combination that allows the individual to be a thriving member of the community, as otherwise, “it’s hard to attend to other things when you’re struggling both physically and mentally.”
A fourth generation Japanese American, Nomura was born in Hawai’i and raised in Portland, Oregon. Luckily, her immediate relatives, such as her mother and two sisters, relocated to Seattle, where they are all able to spend time together. When she’s not working, Nomura loves to spend time with her husband and adult son and cook for her family and friends.
“It’s fun to plan the menu and shop and cook and feed people,” she shared. Also when she has time, she will catch a Mariners game. “I’m a big baseball fan.”
Nomura received her BA and her MBA from the University of Washington. She was a provider of health services for many years and continued to move up in leadership roles. She is most excited about ICHS’s Healthy Aging and Wellness Program because it is a “true commitment” on the part of ICHS “to develop more services for elders.” She explained that, due to the aging of America’s population, we know there will be a high number of geriatric members in our community, including the AAPI community.
“It’s really about providing wrap around services for that population so they stay as healthy and active as possible in their aging process.”
Nomura advises keeping a lookout on ICHS’s website (www.ichs.com) for multiple anniversary activities this year. They want to make sure that “as many parts of our communities” as possible are able to celebrate with them, instead of having just one big event.
“I look forward to working with so many others in the community to keep ICHS going,” Nomura said. “We have a lot of potential and opportunities coming up. They’re an amazing organization.”
There’s a lot to be excited about as ICHS hits 50 years old. They are growing, both in the amount of space and number of programs, and looking for the best spots in King County to expand. ICHS has gone from “a very small clinic” in 1973 “to now having 11 different ways to access our services,” Nomura outlined. In the beginning, prominent community members, such as Sister Heide Parreño, Bruce Miyahara, and Bob Santos, sought to provide “culturally appropriate medical services” in the same neighborhoods as their patients. Dr. Eugene Ko donated space in Beacon Hill for what was called the Asian Community Health Clinic. In 1975, they moved to Chinatown and became known as the International District Community Health Center. In 1996, they took on the name they go by today—ICHS.
This is just a brief overview of the many changes ICHS has undergone and still undergoes as they strive to serve their neighbors. In addition to the senior community, their other focus “is looking at how we can continue to support and serve refugees and immigrants that come into our country.” This population struggles with health care access, navigating bureaucracy, and language. To Nomura and ICHS in general, it’s important that they know ICHS, for the next 50 years and more, is “there to support them and…they have a safe place they can come to.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.