Category Archives: Health Equity

Happy AAPI Heritage Month: Updates from the Pacific Islander Initiative

PII Co-Chair, Brittany Afu

This year, BHRS ODE’s Health Equity Initiative, Pacific Islander Initiative (PII) welcomes a returning co-chair, Brittany Afu, who is currently working with long-time partner, Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center. Luci Latu and Brittany have been focusing on rebuilding past partnerships and cultivating new ones to strengthen PII’s membership base.

Some of the initiative’s focus this year has been on COVID outreach – raising awareness around COVID testing, vaccines and linking families to COVID relief programs and services. Other focuses include outreaching for partner events and community classes, sharing information about services and completing community presentations to raise awareness on critical issues affecting the PII community.

Recently, the PII co-chairs presented to a class at UC Berkeley discussing Pacific Islander health disparities and how the initiative and other partnering agencies are developing strategies to address community needs. It is an ongoing effort, and we hope to make community impacts by filling future Parent Project courses, hosting Mental Health First Aid trainings and getting more families connected to needed care.

Blog written by Brittany Afu
Co-Chair of Pacific Islander Initiative of San Mateo County, 


To learn more about Pacific Islander Initiative and other health equity initiatives, visit SMCHealth.org/HEI.

The Health Equity Initiatives are funded through BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity. For more information click here.

To learn more about Pacific Islander Initiative, visit smchealth.org/pacific-islander-initiative.

Kwentuhan: Y(Our) Story Matters: You heal. I heal. We heal. 

Panel from Equity Through Art Series: Kwentuhan on 3/31/22

Kwentuhan in Tagalog,  translates to “storytelling.” By exploring our personal and collective narratives we can find ways to deepen our connection to Self, & others, including our ancestors (seen and unseen). Research has shown that the practice of storytelling, whether you are sharing or witnessing, can offer a pathway to healing. The Equity Through Art Series webinar: “Filipinx Kwentuhan” on March 31st embodied that relational experience for me, as I spoke my truth as a panelist, as well as witnessing the soulfully moving & resilient stories shared by my fellow kapatids (siblings) on the panel. As a 2nd generation Pinay-American, this cultural tradition of kwentuhan has served as a wisdom transfer, and ancestral healing tool in my family and community.  

This healing arts practice is at the heart of the newly founded Kapwa Kultural Center/Kafé in Daly City (a state-funded project by the Mental Health Services Act Innovation Funding) that, in collaboration with Daly City Partnership & Daly City Youth Health Center, the Filipino Mental Health Initiative of San Mateo County has developed to honor our Filipina/o/x lineage and culture through preserving our individual and collective narratives. Expected to officially launch late 2022 to mid-2023, the center/café will offer a welcoming, culturally affirming, healing space to access an array of mental health & wellness services and support—as well as a home for kwentuhan: a place to talk story, grab a Filipino-inspired drink, and merienda (afternoon snacks). Please stay tuned for more updates on our progress. If you are interested in getting involved and/or learning more about this historical North San Mateo County landmark development, please feel free to contact us at fmhismc@gmail.com or visit us at fmhi-smc.org. 

Blog written by Stephanie Balon, MA, AMFT 
Co-Chair of Filipino Mental Health Initiative of San Mateo County, 
Co-Founder/Senior Director of Kapwa Kultural Center/Kafe in Daly City 


Missed the event? You can find the full recording here.

To learn more about Filipino Mental Health Initiative and other health equity initiatives, visit SMCHealth.org/HEI.

The Health Equity Initiatives are funded through BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity. For more information click here.

AACI Black History Month Event | Thank you and Highlights

The African American Community Initiative (AACI) proudly hosted their annual Black History Month Program on Saturday, February 26, 2022. The audience was greeted with a musical interlude by The Glide Ensemble singing “Say Their Names” chanting “Black lives matter- we matter.” This poignant song was followed by Dana Johnson (they/them), Pride Initiative Co-Chair, honoring our ancestors by reciting the Sankofa African Ancestral acknowledgement. Lee Harrison (he/him), AACI Co-Chair, gave an introduction to the national theme for Black History Month: Black Health and Wellness.

Doctoral student from Palo Alto University and AACI intern, Chika Ofodu (she/they) gave a well received presentation on Healing Centered Engagement (HEC), a framework for engaging with youth of color that embraces a holistic and strength- based approach to trauma that involves culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing.

Dr. Kim Rhoads (she/her) told us that the highest rate of COVID infection and deaths are still occurring in Black and Latino communities. Social determinants drive these disparities that are common among all other diseases. Although the total numbers of people with COVID has declined, Dr Rhoads emphasised that Black and Brown communites need to continue to follow precautionary guidelines to reduce our high infection rates:

  • Masking matters: It is most important to block the aerosol spread from the mouth and nose.
  • Protect yourself by getting vaccinated despite community conspiracy theories to the contrary.
  • Omicron is a variant of COVID, there will likely be new variants.

We must act accordingly to protect ourselves from this airborne disease.

Lastly, a cultural cooking demonstration of a Healthy Gumbo recipe was offered by Chef Opal of Daly City. Through-out the event there were presentation polls and raffles. A Black History Trivia Game and raffle ended the day on a high note. All event raffles were funded by the SMC BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity.

Written by Pamela Ward (she/her), African American Community Initiative Co-Chair

March 31: Filipinx Kwentuhan: Equity through Art Webinar

When: March 31st 6pm-7pm

Registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEsce2hrD4vGNcPA4inP9HQmIqwFfTt-0_F

Description: Every culture has a storytelling tradition. In the Filipinx diaspora, kwentuhan (storytelling) is a way of remembering and honoring ancestors, preserving histories, and reconnecting with kapwa. It has also provided a path to resisting invisibility. From the time the first Filipinos landed in California in 1587 to the time they began settling in San Mateo County in the 1920s, storytelling has always been part of the fabric of the community’s lived experience. Equity Through Art Series’ “Filipinx Kwentuhan” will feature unique stories of resilience, healing and bayanihan in the Filipinx community in San Mateo County. The webinar panel will be moderated by Aileen Cassinetto, San Mateo County Poet Laureate, and feature Matthew Abaya, Filmmaker; Stephanie Balon, Co-Chair of the SMC BHRS Filipino Mental Health Initiative; Joanne Boston, events producer with a focus on community art and culture; Carly Burton, Jefferson High school Student and filmmaker; and Rosie Tejada, President of the Jefferson Union High School District Board of Trustees.

As we, in San Mateo County, reckon with racial inequities, it’s critical to understand the history that got us to where we are today. The Equity through Art Series, a partnership between the County Library, BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity, and the Chief Equity Officer at the County of San Mateo, takes us on a journey to understand the experiences of Black, Indigenous, Communities of Color, through their voices and stories. For the full series, visit: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuc5tf7EL6P7G4UatPRBuPqQ0LmP1PHNa. Please join us for Filipinx Kwentuhan Webinar on March 31st from 6-7pm.

“Living Into Our Mission” by Dr Erica Britton

Isn’t it true that “everyday life” teaches us lessons we didn’t know we needed to learn?  Or, that there are events that happen as a part of our daily lives that shine a light on things that need to be seen?  I think so.   Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a healthy, vibrant, joyful 76-year-old with no major health problems, my mother*, a Black woman who, as a teenager, migrated with her family from the American South to East Palo Alto in the 1960s.  Lately, she has been experiencing pain and other symptoms that are far outside her normal daily living experiences.  The symptoms were starting to take a toll on her emotionally.  She asked me to “sit in” on a virtual Doctor’s appointment with her.  When she described the pain and swelling, she is experiencing, the Doctor asked her several follow up questions which Mom answered succinctly without much elaboration.  Based on Mom’s answers and her upbeat, cheerful tone, the Doctor suggested compression stockings.    That would have been the end of the appointment.  Instead, Mom has two upcoming medical procedures that are going to improve her life both physically and psychologically.  So, what happened? Why does she have two medical procedures instead of compression stockings? After all, Mom reported her experience.  The Doctor who has a good relationship with Mom, listened closely and did an assessment. What had happened was, the Doctor was not aware of Mom’s deft use of African American English and code-switching.  Since I had seen the swelling and knew her actual level of discomfort, I asked Mom some additional questions and asked her to share her answers with the Doctor. Once the Doctor heard the additional information, she insisted that Mom come for an in-person visit.  The result of the in-person visit revealed two significant problems which would have otherwise been missed.

Consider this. Several years ago, a local Black psychiatrist was called to the emergency room of a Bay Area hospital. The ER staff did not know what to do to support or contain a man absolutely overcome with grief. His grandmother had been shot by a stray bullet, just a few houses down from her own home, and now, she lay dead on a gurney in the ER, despite the efforts of determined physicians. The Grandson was not screaming or shouting epithets or kicking over furniture. He was not violent by any definition. He was doubled over weeping, rocking back and forth, and humming amazing grace. ER staff had alerted security because he would not leave his grandmother’s side. He continued to weep, rock and sing. He was not going to leave her. The psychiatrist went to the emergency room, was briefed by the staff, and left them to be with the young man. He stood and watched from a distance for a few minutes and understood exactly what he was seeing. Grandson was expressing grief in the only language that he knew–the gospel music of his home and community–and rocking his body for comfort. In the aftermath of that trauma, he needed to be exactly where he was, doing exactly what he was doing.

Read more

February 26: AACI’s Black History Month Event

The African American Community Initiative (AACI) Health Equity Initiative of San Mateo County BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity is hosting its Black History Month celebration on February 26, 2022 from 10am to 12pm as an online Zoom event.

Please register for this free event here.

Pride Center MHSA Project Outcomes

The San Mateo County Pride Center opened it’s doors in July 2016 as a Mental Health ServicesAct (MHSA) Innovation (INN)-approved five-year pilot project. Since then, the Pride Center has expanded the network of services available to the LGBTQ+ community, promoted visibility and belonging, and filled gaps in culturally responsive mental health treatment services.

According to the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission’s 2018 countywide survey of 546 LGBTQ+ residents and employees, fewer than half (43%) of adult respondents felt that their mental health care provider had the expertise to care for their needs. Among LGBTQ+ youth who responded to the survey, three-quarters (74%)
reported that they had considered harming themselves in the past 12 months, and two-thirds (65%) did not know where to access LGBTQ+ friendly health care.

The MHSA INN component allows counties to introduce and evaluate mental health approaches that have not been tried elsewhere, to develop new best practices. The San Mateo County Pride Center was developed as an INN project since the U.S. has no other model of a coordinated approach across mental health, social, and psychoeducational services for the LGBTQ+ community.

The Pride Center offers services in three components:

  1. Social and Community Activities: outreaches, engages, reduces isolation, educates, and provides support to high-risk LGBTQ+ individuals through peer-based models of wellness and recovery that include educational and stigma reduction activities.
  2. Clinical Services: provides mental health services focusing on individuals at high risk of, or with moderate to severe, mental health challenges.
  3. Resource Services and Training: serves as a hub for LGBTQ+ resources. Hosts trainings and events related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and on providing culturally affirmative services.

In FY 2020-21 alone:
• 3,000+ participants served through clinical, social, training, and drop-in services
• 169 unique individuals received clinical services
• 2,700 hours of clinical services were delivered
• 359 community members served across 10 different peer support groups
• 300+ LGBTQ+ older adults were regularly contacted via emails, calls, and support groups

Read more

What is MCOD?!

MCOD Progress Timeline

MCOD stands for Multicultural Organization Development, and since 2015 BHRS has been working on our MCOD plan to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion principles in the workplace. This framework was established to support BHRS’ ability to work effectively and respectfully with people from diverse cultural, linguistic, and social backgrounds.

To achieve this, the MCOD Action Plan was developed to focus on three key areas:

1) The recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse staff at ALL levels, including leadership,
2) the creation of a brave workplace environment in which speaking out, respectful dialogue, and acknowledging differences is accepted and encouraged, and
3) promoting transparency and collaboration in decision-making and policy-making to ensure that those who are most impacted have meaningful participation.

Each of these areas has specific strategies, activities, and tasks to make progress towards a more inclusive organization. To begin this work, BHRS rolled out a survey in 2019 to measure our culture among staff. Since 2019 leadership team members have been surveyed to better understand the organizational climate and sentiment around MCOD. For example, 73% of BHRS leadership members currently agree that BHRS values diversity at all levels of the organization. In addition, BHRS executive team members were assigned, and subcommittees were formed to oversee the progress in each plan area. As we begin 2022, we look forward to supporting the subcommittee work and beginning to engage all BHRS staff in these efforts.

For more information on the MCOD action plan please click here. For any questions, please contact Frances Lobos at flobos@smcgov.org

Written by Frances Lobos, Office of Diversity & Equity

Join the Diversity and Equity Council!

The Diversity and Equity Council (DEC) works to ensure that topics concerning diversity, health disparities, stigma reduction, and health equity are reflected in the work of San Mateo County’s mental health and substance use services. The DEC is open to BHRS staff, contracted providers, community members, and encourages participation of consumers/clients/family members by providing stipends or honorariums for ongoing participation.  

Over the past year, the DEC in collaboration with community partners hosted a series of Town Halls on Race & COVID-19 to share county efforts and hear from community voices about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This information was used to identify priorities and it was shared to inform the County’s larger recovery plan. Starting in 2022 the DEC will be focusing on implementing a strategic plan that supports continued collaboration with BHRS​, Health Equity Initiatives, Community-Based Organizations, and the community at large.  

We invite you to join us! The DEC meets virtually every first Friday of the month from 11-12:30pm. For meeting details and more information please contact DEC Co-chairs Brenda Nuñez at brenda.nunez@star-vista.org or Frances Lobos at flobos@smcgov.org.

Writen by Frances Lobos & Brenda Nuñez, DEC Co-Chairs

10/5 – 5th Annual Interfaith National Day of Prayer for Behavioral Health and Understanding

Each year during the first week of October the nation celebrates the Interfaith National Day of Prayer for Behavioral Health and Understanding. This day is designed to bring together mental health and substance abuse networks and faith leaders together so that they may recognize the importance of behavioral health issues in our community.

On Tuesday, Oct 5, Nami of San Mateo County, Office of Diversity and Equity‘s Spirituality Initiative, San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, and numerous faith leaders will virtually host our county’s 5th National Interfaith Day of Prayer for Behavioral Health and Understanding.

Register at smcgov.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwrdu-urD0vGtRZWB_91CngrBY0OjXsJm-M

We invite consumers, faith base community, providers, and community to attend this event.

For more info contact Melinda Ricossa at MRicossa@smcgov.org or Isaac Frederick at ifrederick@smcgov.org

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