New Coalition Led by Berkeley Public Health Promotes Health Equity in California

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health is the driving force behind a new coalition of schools of public health and civic groups working to advance health equity in California.

The California Alliance of Academics and Communities for Public Health Equity, established nearly a decade ago, seeks to harness public health research to rectify injustices that have long harmed low-income people and communities. state color.

The alliance brings together researchers from more than 30 California colleges and universities with community health care organizations already working to promote better health in rural and urban centers across the state. It is hosted at the Institute of Public Health and funded by the California Endowment, California Wellness Foundation, California Health Care Foundation, and Blue Shield of California Foundation and launched late last year.

Morry Rao Hermón, BPH’s director of philanthropy who was instrumental in building the Alliance, sees the coalition as a “Shidduch” – the Yiddish word for connecting – between academics and community activists .

“There are many professors at Berkeley and other schools who have gone into public health to make an impact in the world,” he said. “They want their work to be relevant to real, positive change.

“We can tap into the academy’s vast resources to support grassroots community organizations that are on the front lines of advancing health equity and need data to make a compelling case to the legislature,” he said. -he declares.

The organization has an extensive program. The researchers want to increase the diversity of California’s public health workforce and train students to address the impact of racism on health. They also want it to work as a driver of policy change on many issues, including environmental justice, domestic violence, gun violence and the intersecting crises of homelessness, hunger and discrimination.

“We are doing something that has not been done before in the United States,” said Dr. Michael Rodriguez, executive director of the alliance. “It’s about building those bridges between the silos that have existed historically, so that we can work together on a common political agenda.”

Dr. Rodriguez has a long history of working to improve health equity. Born in San Francisco, he was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He then attended medical school at UCLA, then trained in family medicine at UCSF before earning a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins. Rodriguez was a family physician and professor of family medicine at UCLA for 21 years, and also founded the Health Equity Network of the Americas, a 24-country network of governments, universities, and community groups, based in UCLA. University of Costa Rica.

“When I heard about this project, it sounded a lot like other endeavors I’ve done,” he said. “I feel lucky to be in this position.”

A decade of planning

Berkeley Public Health began working on the idea of ​​a coalition in 2015 when Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, approached then-school dean Dr. Stefano Bertozzi with a Question: Could public health schools and programs become a stronger force in accelerating health equity by developing a common vision and improving coordination?

Dr. Bertozzi assembled a group of deans and directors from other schools and public health departments, who supported the idea.

When Dean Michael C. Lu arrived at Berkeley in 2019, he continued to contact deans and directors of other public health schools and programs, including those in the University of California and University systems. California State and private schools such as the University of San Francisco, Claremont Graduate University and Stanford University. Dean Lu worked with Morry Rao Hermón to raise $1.4 million, develop a shared research agenda, and expand membership to include community health groups such as the Asian American Senior Citizens Service Center, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, California Black Health Network, and the San Joaquin Community Foundation.

“The pandemic has shown the world the price we pay for chronic underinvestment in public health,” Dr. Lu said. “It has also revealed the extent of health inequalities in our state, and even within our own communities.

“The goals of the alliance are to elevate the collective voice and impact of all schools and public health programs across the state, and to strengthen our connections with local health departments and community partners to help revitalize our public health workforce and systems, and address the deep-rooted social and structural determinants of health inequities in our state.

With so much to settle, what is the alliance going to do first?

Dr Rodriguez said the organization is starting with violence prevention and pushing to repeal the current requirement for health care practitioners to report suspected cases of domestic violence to law enforcement.

The law was passed to help victims of domestic violence, but, Dr Rodriguez said, it has often backfired.

“It had some unintended consequences,” said Dr. Rodriguez, who has published extensively on the issue. “We found from talking to survivors that many were afraid to go to the hospital or clinic for fear of the consequences of being reported. Mandatory reporting laws have deterred many people from seeking care. Many thought, “If you report me, I will be killed. ”’

Dr Rodriguez said the alliance supports proposed legislation, AB1028, which would remove the requirement to report injuries from assault or abusive behavior, and instead require a medical professional who suspects domestic violence provide counselling, education or other support, as well as referral to advocacy services. He’s encouraged by the support for the bill, but isn’t sure it will pass.

“It’s incredibly difficult to undo something, even when you have data and research to show it has unintended harmful consequences,” he said.

The alliance is also pushing for the cancellation of public health student loans and will soon launch the Community Action Fund, a new grant program to pay community organizations in California to partner with faculty and students. state public health schools and programs. The deadline is April 14.

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