How did you end up working in public health?
Honestly, I don’t think I’d even heard of public health until I was in my mid-20s and a colleague went off to get an MPH. I’ve always been interested and involved in social justice work. In high school I somehow ended up participating in a peace march along the East/West German border. After college I led teams of young adults, many of them high school dropouts or coming out of the justice system, conducting service projects throughout New York City and later helped start and directed a program at UC Berkeley focused on increasing access to higher education for low-income, first generation students. My interest was slowly moving from direct service to systems and policy change, and I kept coming back to health as a useful and universal way to look at resource distribution, fairness, etc. Plus Berkeley had a great master’s program right nearby.
Sounds like you’ve moved around and traveled quite a bit?
I guess you could say that…I’ve always sought out new experiences and new places. Some of those adventures have worked out better than others. The summer after my sophomore year at Haverford College, I convinced a friend from high school that we should bike across the country. We raised money from painting a couple houses, packed up our bikes, and headed west from Cambridge. We almost didn’t make it past Worcester and seriously debated giving up in Amherst. But then we got into a rhythm and ended up riding 2,000 miles to Nebraska before the wind in our faces and steady uphill wore us down and we found a $300 car to drive home (within an hour we went from hardcore cyclists heading west to tourists driving East). I’d never really spent time in small communities, and we met dozens of kind, interesting, and generous people along the way.
“I’ve been involved in social justice work for pretty much as long as I can remember.”
How did you end up working on health reform in CA at JSI?
I worked at Prevention Institute (PI) in Oakland for seven+ years before joining JSI in July 2014. At PI, I did a lot of work on land-use and health, health equity and social determinants of health, and innovative public health practice and policy in CA. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I became really interested in the ACA’s implications for public health and health equity. I ended up working with my colleagues on a report on Community-Centered Health Homes, what would a health institution that embraced social determinants of health in a robust way look like? It achieved a lot of resonance and remains a question I’m focused on. Given JSI’s commitment to underserved communities and knowledge and capacity in both the safety net and public health, it was a natural place to continue that inquiry.
Currently, what are some of the projects you’re working on?
I’m working on continuing to promote the Whole-Person Care framework that others at JSI developed and have written about. The SF office put out a brief in June 2015 looking at approaches to advancing supportive housing for chronically homeless high-utilizers as a health strategy. We also recently released a report on Accountable Communities for Health sustainability. I was part of a state work group charged with developing the ACH concept–a geographic initiative that aligns clinical, social service, and community prevention strategies and engages multiple sectors and investors–and one of the key questions was how to make the funding work long-term. It’s an idea that’s gained some traction and broad interest, we’ll see if we can get to implementation.
What else are you up to these days?
I spend most of my “free” time these days hanging out with my family (kids age 6 and 4), trying to stay on top of their schedules, and seeing the world through their eyes on little Bay Area adventures. In moments of free time, I’m growing tomatoes and sunflowers and trying to play tennis and basketball at least once a week.