UCSF Mourns the Loss of San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee

By Louise Chu

Mayor Ed Lee talks at the podium at a UCSF press conference
Mayor Edwin M. Lee spoke in February at a signing event for legislation related to a new UCSF research and academic facility at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The approval allows the hospital to retain its highest-level designation as a Level 1 trauma center, part of Lee’s legacy of supporting health care access and equity. Photo by Noah Berger

A tireless advocate for equality and innovation, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee partnered with UC San Francisco on a number of initiatives that improved the city’s health care access and economic vitality.

On Tuesday, UCSF mourned the loss of a trailblazing leader and strong collaborator in designing solutions for the San Francisco community.

[Mayor Lee] was an extraordinarily decent, upbeat and dedicated leader of San Francisco, and a staunch ally of UCSF in our mission to provide high-quality health care for all, teach the next generation of leaders in the health sciences and drive breakthroughs in research.

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Mayor Ed Lee,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “He was an extraordinarily decent, upbeat and dedicated leader of San Francisco, and a staunch ally of UCSF in our mission to provide high-quality health care for all, teach the next generation of leaders in the health sciences and drive breakthroughs in research.

“My heart goes out to his family. We, and the broader world, have lost a very special person.”

Improving Access to Quality Health Care

Lee came from a background of civil rights, and from his first days in office in 2010, he championed health care for all San Franciscans through the longstanding partnership between the city and UCSF at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG). At the hospital, UCSF physicians and staff have worked side-by-side every day with employees of the San Francisco Department of Public Health for nearly 150 years.

“Mayor Lee provided unwavering support for ZSFG, the SFGH Foundation that supports the hospital, and the rebuilding of new facilities here,” said Sue Carlisle, MD, PhD, vice dean for ZSFG.

Touting the breakthrough research that allows patients to receive the highest quality care at ZSFG, Lee became instrumental in the approval earlier this year of a new UCSF academic and research facility. It will enable ZSFG to maintain its designation as the City’s sole Level 1 Trauma Center, a rank reserved by the American College of Surgeons for the top trauma treatment centers.

Sue Carlisle, Ed Lee, and Sue Currin talk inside San Francisco General Hospital
Shortly after taking office, Mayor Edwin Lee toured Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital to learn more about the lifesaving work made possible by the longstanding partnership there between UCSF and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Sue Carlisle (left), MD, PhD, remembers Lee’s “unwavering support” for the city’s safety-net hospital over the years. Photo by Susan Merrell

“He understood that this new research facility would allow our faculty to expand our scientific knowledge that could immediately be applied to patient care for San Franciscans and everyone that the hospital serves,” Carlisle said.

Access to affordable, equitable health care also was a priority for Lee. Under his leadership, the city and UCSF built the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership, which works to combine resources across hospitals, public health services and community-based organizations to eliminate health disparities.

Together, they also launched the San Francisco Cancer Initiative (SF CAN) in 2016, a major public health effort to reduce the incidence and mortality from the most common cancers in San Francisco. “Someone’s ability to survive cancer should not be dependent on their socio-economic status,” Lee said in announcing the initiative at City Hall.

A Legacy of Innovation

Lee, who worked for decades as a public servant, had a deep understanding of the city and the opportunities – and challenges – that came with its growth.

As the second-largest employer in San Francisco, UCSF partnered with him on initiatives to stimulate the local economy and build stronger communities.

“In keeping with his civil rights roots, Mayor Lee was able to shepherd San Francisco into a time of economic stability while still maintaining his commitment to care for the underserved,” said Barbara J. French, vice chancellor of Strategic Communications & University Relations, who worked with Lee on many of these projects. “This commitment showed through the programs he has championed, including those in health care.”

Lee continued the city’s support for developing Mission Bay as a world-class biotechnology hub, which started in 2003 with the opening of the UCSF campus. The area has continued to grow into a thriving neighborhood, booming with new housing, retail and the construction of the new Golden State Warriors sports arena.

Ed Lee with local and UCSF leaders cutting a cake
In 2013, Mayor Edwin Lee joined his predecessor Gavin Newsom (second from left), former Gov. Gray Davis (center) and other leaders to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UCSF Mission Bay campus, which has grown into a thriving sector of San Francisco under their leadership. Photo by Susan Merrell

With that boom, Lee worked hard to address infrastructure and transportation impacts to local residents. UCSF partnered with Lee to develop a traffic mitigation plan for the Warriors arena that would ease congestion when the complex opens in 2019, protecting emergency vehicle access to the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay for patient safety. He also worked with Chancellor Hawgood to advocate for the construction of a new ferry terminal at 16th Street to ease congestion in the area.

Lee’s dedication to San Francisco and its people is recognized throughout the city and beyond.

“Today the city of San Francisco lost an intrepid leader, a fierce civil rights advocate and a tireless public servant,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “I extend my deepest condolences to Mayor Lee’s family and friends during this trying time, as San Francisco mourns the death of its biggest champion. Mayor Lee will be sorely missed.”