Meet the Doctor Bringing Peace and Improved Health to the World

Dr. Norbert Goldfield, a board-certified internist, is the founder and executive director of Healing Across the Divides. Photo credit: Sandra Matthews

Early in his life, Dr. Norbert Goldfield had his sights set on a career in Renaissance art history. Instead, he went into medicine to honor his parents’ wishes. “I come from a generation where I did what my parents told me to do,” he tells First Nations.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Goldfield has worked at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, as a board-certified internist, caring for the “poorest of the poor” in his city. “I consider myself lucky to be a healthcare professional and whichever way I can engage with people so that they can lead a better life, I am a happy person.”

Dr. Goldfield ─ a valued, annual donor to First Nations ─ has always had a special interest in empowering marginalized groups and facilitating their access to quality medical care.

Israeli Jew and Bedouin working together on a Joint Farm to improve nutrition and communication. Photo credit: Shimon Biokshtein

He is the founder and executive director of Healing Across the Divides (HATD), the only nonprofit organization in the world whose mission is to “measurably improve the health of marginalized people living in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories via community-based interventions,” as stated on the HATD website.

“While Israel has a first-class, first-world healthcare system, like the United States, low-income populations are very much disadvantaged and poverty is even greater there than in our country,” he highlights the problem. “And there is no healthcare system in the Palestinian territories.”

For over 18 years, Dr. Goldfield and the HATD team have offered chronic disease management expertise, funding, and technical advice to improve the health of several hundred thousand Palestinians and Israelis, strengthen community groups and, long-term, hopefully help contribute toward the resolution of the historic conflict between the two communities. The impact of HATD’s interventions is well-documented in a book written by Dr. Goldfield, “Peace Building Through Women’s Health.”

What’s more, the clinical research Dr. Goldfield was engaged in for more than three decades also improved the health outcomes for many people around the globe. As medical director for 3M Health Information Systems, he developed tools linking payment for healthcare services to better-quality medical care.

A mission of ‘engagement’

Talk to Dr. Goldfield for any length of time, and one word continues to pop up in the conversation: “engagement.” It is why he became involved in philanthropy in the first place ─ and why he is so drawn to First Nations.

“I am interested in engaging with that other part of society that may be disadvantaged, looking them in the eye and trying to identify ways they can develop the confidence to lead a life they would like to lead,” the doctor says, emphasizing that HATD does not deliver or direct care, but rather, it works through existing community groups, like First Nations, to empower individuals.

The vast majority of HATD grants are awarded to women because they are the most discriminated people in the world and are a conduit for positive change, states Dr. Goldfield. “When you fund women, you not only help women lead a better life, but also, women are the ones who are very much interested in improving the lives of the family and the community.”

Girls participating in a drug abuse prevention program in East Jerusalem.

Dr. Goldfield also has chosen to engage with First Nations for similar reasons. He believes the most disadvantaged people in the Americas are Native Americans who had genocide committed against them by colonists. “Even so, First Nations people are alive and well, and as an American living in the United States, I feel it is my moral obligation to be engaged however I can with these communities.”

The doctor is especially interested in improving the health of Native Americans in the areas of nutrition, and diabetes prevention and care, where he has extensive expertise. Using a methodology developed at Stanford University, HATD has had measurable success in Israel and the Palestinian territories around diabetes control through chronic disease self-management, a program taught by Dr. Goldfield that has been translated into Arabic.

His donations have specifically supported First Nations’ Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions program, and he now defers to First Nations to use his funds wherever they are needed most.

“It is a pleasure and an honor to be engaged with First Nations. I think what you do is outstanding in terms of deciding how monies are to be spent,” he says. “Healthcare is really a triad. All human beings need housing, education, and health. But education and health are very much tied together; and without housing it is simply not possible to be healthy.”

No time to rest

These days, Dr. Goldfield splits his time between seeing patients at the community health center, serving as executive director of Healing Across the Divides and working as a political consultant through another organization he founded in 2018 called “Ask Nurses and Doctors.”

“The goal of this bipartisan organization is to organize local healthcare professionals in support of competitive candidates or incumbents who have a positive approach to healthcare reform,” explains Dr. Goldfield, who confesses to having big dreams for this venture. During his lifetime, he hopes to see some of these people he has supported become tomorrow’s top leaders, in Congress or even the White House.

Boys working on the Joint Farm.

Dr. Goldfield is also the author of more than 50 books and articles, including the soon-to-be-released “American Fragility in a Pandemic Era: The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Peace-Building.” He believes that the United States’ response to COVID has been the worst of any industrialized country, “with 10 times the death rate (population adjusted) of, for example, Australia,” he says. He discusses this idea in greater detail in his new book that features excerpts from an online COVID diary he has been writing zealously for more than two years.

The Italian-born Jewish American who speaks Italian fluently continues to be passionate about Renaissance art history and has developed an interest in Native art, as well. “I have quite a few Native American prints, particularly from Northern Canada,” he says.

“I also love movies,” he adds. “Harold and Maude” and “Once Upon a Time in America” are a few of his favorites. “But I haven’t seen a movie in a long time because as you can probably tell, I’m a little bit busy.”