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Reflecting on My First Year as CPEHN's Executive Director

Reflecting on My First Year as CPEHN's Executive Director

Today marks my one year anniversary as CPEHN’s Executive Director. It’s hard to believe it has already been one year! When I started, CPEHN had just been awarded the 2014 “Impact Award for Advocacy” by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the election season was upon us, and staff were wrapping up another successful legislative year.
Thanks to a tremendous staff, amazing funders and donors, and a committed Board of Directors, CPEHN has achieved a number of key accomplishments. A few noteworthy highlights of our work include:

Advancing policies that improve health in California’s communities of color

In 2014, we saw three of our sponsored bills signed into law, including AB 505 to codify Medi-Cal language thresholds; SB 912 to promote a healthy state vending machine policy; and AB 2102 to facilitate data collection on allied health professionals to promote a culturally appropriate workforce. This year, we have three more bills advancing through the legislature that we’re very optimistic about: SB 388 to ensure access to a translated summary of benefits and coverage; AB 389 to make hospital language assistance policies available online; and SB 137 to require health plans to provide consumers with accurate, up-to-date provider directories to help find doctors who can meet their language needs. We’re also honored to be part of the Health for All movement to expand health care coverage to all Californians, including undocumented immigrants. Health for All saw a big victory recently when the state budget included funding to expand Medi-Cal to all low-income children, regardless of immigration status.

Continuing to grow and focusing on new initiatives

It’s an exciting time at CPEHN as we recently completed an update to our strategic plan, which will help guide our efforts into 2017 as we work toward health equity in California. We have also expanded our reach by opening a Los Angeles office. There are so many great efforts in Southern California and we’re thrilled to now have a more active presence in the region. Our new blog, Voices for Health Equity, is a great forum to highlight all the work being done across the state to improve the health of communities of color, with over 150 posts and featured articles from over 35 organizations since January. We are also expanding our work to include more of a focus on oral and mental health. We’re part of DentaQuest Foundation’s Oral Health 2020 initiative to advance oral health equity. We continue to address mental health through the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP). Earlier this year, nearly 300 people attended CRDP town hall events – including our first ever event in Eureka – where we shared the draft Strategic Plan to Reduce Disparities in Mental Health. We will release the final report in the coming months. We also expanded our spring convening series, Focus on Equity: Communities of Color in a Post-ACA California, to two new locations, Riverside and Sacramento.

Spreading the word about our work

There have been a number of opportunities to share CPEHN’s work and stress the importance of health equity. Earlier this year, I testified at a joint hearing before the Senate and Assembly Health Committees on disparities in health care. I was also invited to speak on a panel about a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation, Coverage Expansions and the Remaining Uninsured: A Look at California During Year One of Affordable Care Act Implementation. And just this past week, I spoke at a hearing about a new Field Poll sponsored by the California Wellness Foundation that showed California voters overwhelmingly support the ACA, believe that the state has been successful at ACA implementation, and support extending coverage to undocumented immigrants.
We have witnessed a number of historic national efforts that have helped turn the tide for traditionally marginalized communities. On successive days in June, the Supreme Court delivered decisions that finally granted marriage equality across the nation and that upheld the Affordable Care Act. We saw a heroic effort to take down the confederate flag in South Carolina, a symbol of the institution of slavery. The accomplishments and milestones achieved this year, including those by CPEHN, are the constant tide of change that keeps us moving forward. These are the step stones to a better, healthier society and country.
As a nation, we are also undergoing challenges that continue to expose the historical wounds of racism and inequity. Ongoing stories of police brutality across the nation, particularly against African American men and women as well as Latinos and Native American communities reinforce the challenges these communities face overcoming systemic violence and oppression. The slaying of the members Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the racist and sexist remarks of presidential candidates show us that there is much work left to overcome hatred and intolerance. The anger stemming from injustice, bigotry, and violence against communities of color is the fire in our bellies that brings us together to continue fighting for change. I look forward to working with our founding ethnic partners and diverse coalition partners to elevate the voices of our communities to improve health equity. 
As I reflect on the growth in my own leadership, I remember feeling that I knew what a tremendous responsibility I was taking on, and that there would be challenges along with wins. And, as a new mom with a 10 month old son, I knew it would be hard. As most moms know too well, there is a feeling of guilt that grips at your heart as you walk out of the door in the morning, especially when there are tears and tantrums. With the amazing support of my family including my husband, Rex, and Max’s abuelos (grandparents) Rick and Carole Mercer, and Jovita and Alex de Guia, I have been able to grow in my dream job!  
While I never know what to expect stepping out of the house and into the office every day, the CPEHN team’s commitment to our mission has been truly inspirational to me and my vision for how we as an organization continue on this journey of creating healthy communities.

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