In summary

State leaders should keep their promise and continue to support organizations that play a critical role in public health.

By Jim Wood

Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Democrat from Santa Rosa and a dentist, represents the 2nd Assembly District.

Genoveva Islas, Special to CalMatters

Genoveva Islas is executive director of Cultiva la Salud.

When Cultiva La Salud partnered with Saint Agnes Medical Center to deliver vaccines to farm laborers in rural Fresno County – where essential workers were placing their lives on the line to feed us despite growing infections and deaths – no one told them a nonprofit shouldn’t be promoting health in their community. 

When the Ukiah Valley Conference Center volunteered to host an emergency vaccine clinic after a freezer failure at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, which meant vaccine doses needed to be administered immediately, no one said a conference center isn’t public health.

And when three public schools in Los Angeles’s Compton neighborhood partnered with the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center to bring vaccinations to the community – where COVID-19 rates were high and vaccination rates were some of the lowest in the county – no one told them it wasn’t their job.

That’s because we are all a part of public health. And – as COVID-19 has proven – public health works best, and for the most people, when we are all working together.

That’s why organizations from across the state are working together to make sure that California keeps funding every part of public health, through a $300 million budget allocation that has been promised every year beginning in 2022.

This money would fund the public health and equity infrastructure that would keep communities healthy, build community power and acknowledge that we all have a role to play in public health. And that’s why it’s critical that this funding stay in the governor’s proposed 2022-23 budget, which is being drafted right now.

A minimum of $100 million of this allocation has been promised to a Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund, to aid community-based organizations that have been on the ground addressing systemic racism and improving health in their neighborhoods for decades, but who rarely have reliable, ongoing funding. The fund could offer dedicated resources, provide more livable wages to staff and support community-led, community-driven solutions to the health and justice issues that matter most to them.

It could go to groups like Mujeres Poderosas Amorosas, a network working with immigrant Latinas in Fresno County to prevent domestic violence. By centering efforts on healing and building self-love and worth, they are countering a history that devalues immigrant women. Through place-based advocacy and creation of equitable opportunities they are helping to promote greater community safety and independent futures for vulnerable immigrant women.

Mujeres Poderosas Amorosas is informing local decision-makers on the deficits of restrictive rental assistance programs that are failing to prevent evictions among the most vulnerable. They are also shaping school food operations during the pandemic and supporting grocery deliveries to elder Latina immigrants throughout Fresno County. They are lifting themselves up through service to others, building health and justice in their neighborhoods, and creating a network of powerful, loving, women whose expertise and contributions will long outlast the pandemic. 

The budget allocation would also help support public health infrastructure; it could help replace the 11 laboratories that the state has lost since 1999 and rebuild the out-of-date data systems that we depend on for actionable information.

And it could make sure that we have a fully staffed public health workforce that looks like the communities it serves – by supporting partnerships like that between the Worker Education Resource Center and Los Angeles County, who are working together to create career pathways for community health workers/promotores, contact tracers and other COVID response workers, so they can secure permanent employment after the pandemic.

Each of these organizations plays a critical role in public health – from trusted community leader to clinical provider to local health department staff. None of them could do it alone. 

By keeping their promise, dedicating $300 million a year in the 2022-23 budget to these efforts, and guiding at least $100 million of those funds to community-based organizations, California’s leaders would support the role that all of us play in creating a healthier, more just California – for the long term.

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Jim Wood has also written about how piecemeal solutions are not the answer to rising health care costs, and about his opposition to the Big Tobacco referendum. 

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