Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seva* listens to BVHP about health issues

Photo: Participants in a program started by Dr. Risha Irby-Irvin, a Seva* team member who has just won a prestigious award. From left, Robert Dickerson, Dijon Shepard and Jamil McQuinn join Taniqua Alexander, right, and other program participants on a field trip to the set of the TV show CSI.

What if policymakers at all levels heard from those who live, work and play in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood about real experience and grassroots responses to community health and wellness?

Seva*, a partnership between the BVHP community and San Francisco General Hospital’s Internal Medicine Residency Program, believes they should. Residents of Bayview Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than residents living on Russian Hill, according to the highly-regarded Health Matters online tool.

Residents, doctors, community-based organizations and leaders from throughout the neighborhood are engaged in a series of grassroots dialogues that have taken them from the table of the African American Community Health Equity Council to the gym at the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club.

Seva* participants are listening to the people who suffer most from health disparities and other challenges affecting wellness, and discovering untapped community wisdom for addressing the needs of the people who live within that community. A policy and advocacy tool is being developed to amplify grassroots experience and knowledge.

There are still involvement opportunities for anyone interested in Seva*’s work. BVHP organizations can host a community dialogue and sign-up as an organizational supporter, and individuals can serve on the Seva* Accountability Council to review drafts of the brief. Contact Roberto Ariel Vargas for more information.

*Seva emerged from relationships built within the Southeast Sector Food Access Working Group, and is funded by University of California Partnerships.

The student doctors who are part of the Seva* team are remarkable for their commitment to making the world a better place for all people through good healthcare provision. Several of them have made recent contributions.

For instance, Risha Irby-Irvin, MD, who is in her third year of residency, was honored by the American Association of Medical Colleges for her work in designing and implementing the Summer Empowerment Academy, a program that offers support and guidance to teenagers from low-income communities and seeks to inspire them to pursue higher education.

Risha started the program with her husband Nathan, an emergency medicine resident at Highland Hospital in Oakland, to address some of the social determinants of health. Why?

“I work at San Francisco General Hospital,” she says, “and every day I see the effects of poverty, violence and a lack of educational opportunities.”

Devora Keller, MD, co-authored a paper called “Health Literacy: New developments and research” in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare about health literacy in vulnerable populations.

The fact that it often seems like doctors and patients speak different languages lends urgency to Devora’s contribution, and is a big part of the reason Seva* exists. Email Devora if you would like to learn more about her work.

Basim Khan, MD, one of the student doctors most involved with Seva*, pulled up to a meeting in Bayview last weekend with a car packed to the roof with boxes of relief supplies for Haiti. Those who know Basim are not surprised by expressions of his concern for others, like this one. Now, those who read the Los Angeles Times shouldn’t be surprised either.

Basim authored a high-profile opinion piece, for that newspaper’s November 5th edition, on the need for more primary care physicians and better community-based healthcare provision. He noted that, fifty years ago, half of all American doctors were primary care physicians, a figure that has dropped to a third.

That fact is alarming since, as Basim says, primary care physicians “are a patient's advocate, an ally in a system that is becoming increasingly complicated, overbearing and even dehumanizing.”

Not to be outdone by his students, Seva* organizer and UC Primary Care/Internal Medicine Residency Program Director, Sharad Jain, MD, was seen on CBS channel 5 recently. He talked about the prevalence of obesity which he and other providers have been seeing for years on the front line of healthcare provision in our area.

The entire Seva* team is proud of the achievements of these and other involved doctors at SF General Hospital.

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