Woman makes her mark as East Harlem's Metropolitan Hospital CEO, trailblazer in Dominican community

Crystal Cranmore Image
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
Women's History Month: Hospital CEO inspires as trailblazer in Dominican community
Crystal Cranmore has the story of Cristina Contreras, CEO of Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem.

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Some might say the odds were stacked against Cristina Contreras, the CEO of Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem. But in transfiguring the odds into opportunity, she leads an inspiring path.

"There was a lot of things that were not clear in my life, but the one thing that was clear was that I didn't want to end up being one more statistic," Contreras tells Eyewitness News.

Contreras represents roughly 27% of women CEOs in health systems across the country, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It's a feat that didn't come easy.

The Dominican Republic native came to the U.S. when she was just 15 years old, not knowing the language and the challenges of a new culture.

She says family dysfunction forced her and her then 16-year-old brother to fend for themselves, nearly experiencing homelessness and going without meals.

A high school program for at risk students sparked her interest in social work.

"I'm always advocating for people that are less fortunate or they can't help themselves," Contreras said.

A teen mom at 18, Contreras got her bachelor's from Lehman College before furthering her education. She's worked within the NYC Health and Hospitals system for the last three decades, climbing up the ladder, switching from frontline worker to administration.

"When I realized that I had more of an influence helping not only one person but improving processes that helped groups or helped more people, it became more rewarding," Contreras said.

The hospital CEO has taken steps to improve access to jobs, including starting a paid internship program. She's also worked to strengthen access to bilingual healthcare.

Her Latin heritage doesn't just run through her veins -- it's everywhere and in everything she does.

In addition to her hospital duties, Contreras chairs the National Dominican Day Parade, which she says brings her a sense of joy that she wants the next generation to also feel.

The organization provides educational scholarships to help open doors for future leaders like Contreras.

"I want people to say 'Well, if she went through all that and she was able to make it to this position, imagine what I can accomplish,'" Contreras said.

ALSO READ | All-women flight crew takes off from Newark Airport this Women's History Month

Lindsay Tuchman reports.


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