March 17 2020

Today, our Board of Directors announced $5 million in what will likely be a first phase of disaster-response funding to combat the effects of COVID-19, which has not only threatened the health of our communities, but the financial and economic viability of families and communities all over California.

This phase of funding highlights several emergency response funds that have been established by our colleagues in local and regional philanthropy – community foundations in Southern California, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, the Bay Area, and the rural north. These local philanthropic institutions live closer to the lived experiences and needs of vulnerable communities – such as the homeless, and immigrant populations – and we trust their ability to move the resources where they are needed most.  We will also move some dollars to support improved COVID-19 responsiveness in community health clinics by supporting the California Primary Care Association.

Flexibility is the word of the day

In addition, we will move to provide as much flexibility as possible to existing grantees to re-deploy current grant resources as needed to respond to community needs in this fast-moving and dynamic situation.  If you are a grantee-partner of ours, and your work can benefit from relaxed grant restrictions or advancing a scheduled grant payment, we are prepared to respond affirmatively. Please contact your program manager for support on this front.

As a society, we find ourselves in uncharted territory these days.  The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be quite adept at multiplying a full range of anxieties: the anxiety about our own health and the health of those we love;  the anxiety about the basic necessities of jobs, income and food; the anxiety of deepening isolationism and losing steady contact with family, friends, co-workers; the anxiety of losing communal opportunities in restaurants, concerts, weddings, and at church, synagogue, or the Mosque.

Even the key, driving strategy for mitigating the impact of the epidemic – “social distancing” to slow down viral spread – elevates the level of anxiety.

The irony of all of this is, simply: we can only get through this together.  Here’s Dr. Bob’s to-do list on how we get through this:

  1. Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing:  I was recently advised that we want people and communities to stay connected – even if we are physically distanced.  This is a moment to fully recognize and embrace how much we need one another. Using social media and other creative means, stay and be even better connected.  So, I will cease using the term Social Distancing.
  1. Reject and Bury Xenophobia: Anti-immigrant policies, practices, and activities need to be called out and rejected.  As of this writing, ICE Agents are conducting new raids targeting immigrants even here in California.  The “Public Charge” issue led by the White House penalizes immigrants for seeking publicly-funded services in the citizenship and naturalization process – the last thing we need in a global pandemic is instilling fear in immigrant communities when we need people to seek health services – not avoid them.  And the recent increase in anti-Asian community rhetoric and bigotry is quite disturbing – COVID-19 should not be referred to or associated with any community. Let’s make our voices heard and felt on this front. Let’s call it out and cut it out.
  1. Put the Most Vulnerable First:  As a physician, our physician training taught us about the value of triage.  The way an emergency room or medical center works is centered on this idea: the sickest and most vulnerable patients are admitted through the ER and into an Intensive Care bed for the highest level of attention and care.  An otherwise healthy patient with pneumonia may be admitted to a regular hospital bed for treatment. A patient with a broken wrist gets an x-ray, a splint or a cast applied, and is sent home from the ER…. anyway, you get the picture.  The homeless, the undocumented and immigrant communities, low-income and service industry/”gig economy” workers will need our full, riveted, top-of-mind attention and resources as our most vulnerable neighbors.  
  1. Honor-Support-Appreciate the front line:  America has become accustomed to celebrating “First Responders” in recent years – typically defined as law enforcement and firefighters.  In waging the battle against this epidemic, anyone working on the front-lines to support vulnerable communities and populations should receive “celebrated” first-responder, support status: in addition to all types of medical and health personnel, we now see that nonprofit organizations serving homeless, immigrant, and other vulnerable communities are now our most valued resource.  They are responding to advocate for clothing, housing, feeding, nourishment, and support for the millions of Americans who were already living on the edge, and perhaps one paycheck away from financial oblivion. These nonprofits deserve hero status and merit strong public and private support.
  1. Together-Together-Together: “Belonging” is an important strategy.  It represents sound public health practice because everyone is included.  It helps to counteract depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and improves health. It helps address racism and bigotry. It solves problems.  It breeds confidence and optimism. It reflects spiritual and moral values. It reminds us of our shared humanity.

And, quite simply, it is our sense of togetherness that will get us through this moment.  And stronger on the other side of this.

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