Women's Health Advocates Issue Call to Reclaim Values

Sandra Hernández

When women's health leaders gathered at UCSF Mission Bay on Monday to strategize on how to better meet the needs of women and girls, a central theme emerged - private-public collaboration around shared values is paramount to making progress. The reclaiming of shared values of quality health and education programs, for example, is fundamental to obtaining financial support in an era of shrinking local, state and federal funds and forming fruitful partnerships for public benefit, women leaders stressed. The Women's Health Summit on May 16 was organized "to highlight our collective wisdom and strength and to harness our collective power," said Nancy Milliken, vice dean in the UCSF School of Medicine and director of the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, which cosponsored the event. One of 20 nationally designated centers of excellence in women's health, UCSF is a leader in modeling, teaching and implementing community-based partnerships to advance health. To commemorate Women's Health Month in California, the center is offering free community workshops in May at several locations throughout San Francisco. See complete schedule here(pdf).
Gavin Newsom addresses participants of the Women's Health Summit
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addresses participants of the Women's Health Summit at UCSF Mission Bay.
In his opening remarks, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a rallying cry to the 188 attendees, who represented nonprofit and local health agencies. "Give us some actionable items that are part of this collective dialogue," he urged. "Don't make money an excuse. The resources are out there." Newsom knows firsthand that if there is a will, there is a way. He pointed to his recent victory to bring the state stem cell headquarters to the city by pulling together an impressive lineup of leaders who pitched in to offer a great package of incentives to lure the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "The money is out there if we have the courage to take risks," Newsom said. "Use me, please, but give me things that are specific." Maria Cora, coordinator of the Office of Women's Health in the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), shared some details of a women's health plan issued in May 2003. The plan offers six core recommendations for safeguarding, promoting and improving health for women and girls through 2006. The recommendations were developed through a collaborative effort between DPH staff, community members and others to serve the needs of women and girls in San Francisco. Cora told attendees it will take further dialogue and collaboration to advance the initiatives in the women's health plan. One of the initiatives, to eliminate health disparities based on race and ethnicity, disabilities and sexual orientation among women, calls for providing comprehensive cultural competency training and working to address the root causes of discrimination. For its part, the UCSF courses in cultural sensitivity and understanding health disparities. The University also is working to change from within by boosting its efforts to recruit, retain and promote underrepresented minorities in the physician workforce, said Renee Navarro, associate dean of academic affairs. David Kessler, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs, appointed Navarro to chair a task force charged with recommending ways to promote gender, ethnic and racial diversity among the students and faculty. Public Financing Questioned Roma Guy, vice president of the Health Commission of the City and County of San Francisco, said one way to improve public health is to change the ideology of Proposition 13, which was passed by voters in 1978, reducing local property tax revenues and fundamentally changing how public services are financed. Guy also blamed the absence of state and federal policies to address health disparities adversely affecting poor, elderly and minority populations. "We are left organizing ourselves from a grassroots perspective," Guy said. Sandra Hernández, former director of the San Francisco DPH, stressed her belief that creating effective health care services must be based on the needs and input of those they serve. That was the downfall of former First Lady Hillary Clinton's ill-fated health care overhaul, which was largely designed without public consensus, Hernández noted when an audience member asked what went wrong with that plan. Now, as the chief executive officer of the nonprofit San Francisco Foundation, Hernández is confronted with the challenges of addressing megaproblems, such as chronic disease, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer, without sufficient tax dollars to make systemic changes to address access. Hernández also questioned Proposition 13 and its impact on safety net programs for low-income families, children and the elderly. "Proposition 13 began as an experiment," Hernández said. "No one has evaluated its impact. I know it's the third rail of politics, but everybody is feeling the pain of Prop. 13. When Warren Bufffett says, 'What's wrong with California's tax base?' You know something's wrong with California's tax base." But Hernández, who admittedly is an optimist, says hope is on the horizon. "There is a very exciting thing happening in California: There are a lot of angry people… There is a clear sense that we need to take back the values debate." Hernández says there is a movement among foundations and organizations banding together on a multicultural, multi-issue campaign aimed at changing state fiscal policies. Carlina Hansen, executive director of the Women's Community Clinic, stressed the importance of developing partnerships over time and not waiting for a grant or government handout to save the day. Many in the audience voiced frustration and angst about the slow pace of substantial changes in the health care system. Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, who spoke at then Mayor Willie Brown's summit on breast cancer nine years ago just days after having a mastectomy, was among them. She says there must be political will and public outcry to help break down the barriers for access to quality health care for all. "Health care is a human right," she said. "I refuse to believe that the resources don't exist to make this happen." Source: Lisa Cisneros

Related Links

National Center of Excellence in Women's Health