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Meet Our New Senior Community Health Planner, Tania Perez

Staff Perspective Tania Perez

Dear Get Healthy SMC partners,

I am very excited to be the new Health Equity Senior Community Health Planner and work towards COVID-19 recovery alongside the community. I come from the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) within Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS), where I supported evaluation and program implementation under the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). The Mental Health Services Act otherwise known as Proposition 63, is a 1% tax on personal income over 1 million dollars, that funds the transformation of California’s behavioral health system to better serve the community. MHSA covers a broad spectrum of care including prevention and early intervention, innovation, and direct services as well as infrastructure and technology. The time I spent working with MHSA, reinforced in me the need for community-centered strategies and programming, planning processes that start with cultural humility and end with equitable outcomes, as well as authentic relationship building that centers on care and empathy. Throughout my time at ODE, I was able to work on a variety of projects which included community needs assessment on the coast where we developed partnerships between BHRS and faith-based and non-profit organizations, residential complexes, and schools. Through our partnerships, we were able to reach hundreds of community members and ask them about their mental health and substance use needs, their strengths, as well as barriers to services. From this information, we were able to build an RFP that reflected what the community wanted and the Cariño project was born and a partnership with ALAS, a local non-profit organization was reinforced. This project provides culturally centered community-based mental health and substance use services and programming, including peer support groups, art and wellness activities, capacity building, outreach, and linkages to behavioral health services and resources for marginalized communities.

Additionally, most recently I worked on implementing a trauma-informed co-occurring prevention strategy for youth. This program was built in collaboration with historically marginalized youth from the coast and central county. The youth expressed to us “we can learn these skills, but unless the adults around us know this information too, we’re not going to get very far.” So, in addition to a culturally relevant curriculum, we implemented a community engagement portion as well as social determinants of health screener that leads to appropriate referrals for unmet needs. The community engagement portion consists of workshops for adults that surround youth, including parents, teachers, probation officers, etc. These workshops focus on trauma, and how it affects communities, skills for their daily lives, as well as how they can best support the youth they interact with. This strategy then reinforces healthy behavior and decision-making by addressing youth unmet needs, as well as building a strong adult network around them.

Health, Policy and Planning through their strategic plan and key priorities has made incredible changes within our county and I look forward to learning and growing alongside all of you. I am excited to co-build alongside our community partners and use COVID-19 recovery as an opportunity to advance equity within our communities beyond the pandemic. I couple this excitement with a great deal of respect and hold the space as well as the understanding that many of our communities have been irrevocably changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredibly difficult time for many of us, yet it has also shown us the strength of community power, the importance of connection and care, and the resilience of our families. This moment begs us to continue to center equity because it is the only way forward.