Heart in Health Policy
Over this past summer, Gabriella Ruiz ’20, Grad Student in the Master of Arts in Urban and Public Affairs, chose to do her required internship at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. She reveals in this week’s blog the support she gave in advancing San Francisco’s health program, working alongside policy planners and gaining an appreciation for the work needed to make the City better for everyone.
As an Urban and Public Affairs graduate student, I had the opportunity to complete my summer internship at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), Office of Policy and Planning (OPP). As a San Francisco native with an undergraduate degree in Public Health Education from San Francisco State University, it was always a dream to work at DPH. It seemed to be a perfect way to combine the skills I have obtained from my undergraduate and graduate career.
The mission of the OPP is to “promote and support capabilities for community health improvement, informed policy analysis, and comprehensive strategic planning for the Department in achieving its vision to promote and protect the health and well-being of all San Franciscans.” In short- they conduct strategic planning, promote data resources to inform program planning and guide the work of the DPH.
During my time here, I was able to support the OPP in the Methamphetamine Task Force that was convened in Spring 2019 by Mayor London Breed and District Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Prior to this experience, I had only read Task Force reports online yet never fully understood how it was organized and administered in order to receive recommendations. These recommendations then guide how the Mayor chooses to respond.
The Task Force was made up of medical and public health professionals, social workers, paramedics, police officers, public defenders, researchers, substance use treatment providers, and more. There were also five focus groups that gathered qualitative data from providers, current and former users, residents, business owners, and housing providers. This was particularly interesting because I was able to take notes and hear the many challenges these individuals face when addressing methamphetamine use. The staff at OPP and I were able to find common threads amongst these different focus groups and ensure each of their voices was going to be heard through the final Task Force report.
In addition to this, I was also tasked with conducting an environmental scan of what other cities and countries have done in order to address their increase in methamphetamine use. I had the opportunity to research best practices and reached out to professionals in the field for their insight on what has been helpful. This research would eventually support recommendations gathered from the focus groups and Task Force and be included in the final report.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at the department. I got a small glimpse of what it was like to work alongside public health program planners and developed a deep appreciation for the work they do on a day to day basis. Most importantly, I gained a breadth of knowledge surrounding this topic and I feel well versed to engage in a conversation about what I feel are key recommendations that could reduce the harm that comes from methamphetamine use. It has also completely changed my perspective on drug use in general.
As someone who has had family members struggle with their own afflictions, I had this idea that the best way to overcome this was through abstinence-based models. Now I understand that as a city, we need to create efforts and approaches that de-stigmatize drug use altogether. We need more options that also foster substance abuse management. Another huge piece to this is the income inequality in the state and city. The lack of affordable housing in San Francisco continues to worsen and there are direct connections to the methamphetamine usage in the city. If you do your own research on this topic you will find many intersections, and if we as a city and county want to reduce the harm then we need to prioritize this through comprehensive Tx facilities, more open shelter beds, navigation centers in every district, affordable housing, quality after-care and living wages for our frontline workers!