A new year brings new hope

Sierra Health Foundation and The Center President and CEO Chet P. Hewitt shared his annual message to partners.

By Chet P. Hewitt
President and CEO

In my January 2021 message, I praised the millions of Californians whose contributions were making it possible for our state and nation to navigate the global health crisis. I, like countless commentators, researchers and politicians, took special care to shout out a subset of those we now routinely refer to as essential workers – low-wage workers who continue to make extraordinary contributions in our battle against the COVID-19 virus while facing significant personal risks. In California, they are largely workers of color from communities of color, who pick and process our food, manufacture and deliver needed goods and services, and stock shelves in supermarkets and drug stores across our great state.

Our expressions of gratitude for their efforts are well founded, as is our newfound willingness to admit their work has always been essential to our collective health and well-being. However, these workers, their families and the communities they live in deserve much more than our collective thanks. As this year begins, policy at the federal and state level is pivoting toward recovery and we find ourselves positioned to make good on promises to address the racial, social, environmental and economic inequities that exacerbated their vulnerability to COVID-19-related illness and death.

Two important examples are the recently enacted federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the state-funded Community Economic Resilience Fund, both of which are focused on rebuilding and updating our economy. While the federal bill lacks specific requirements for advancing racial equity and inclusion, California has the ability to advance these goals through the flexibility granted to states from the federal government. The Community Economic Resilience Fund, on the other hand, clearly lists the advancement of a “sustainable and equitable recovery from the economic distress caused by COVID-19” and “improving equity outcomes by race, ethnicity, gender and geography” as primary outcomes.

As determinants of health-focused institutions, we at Sierra Health Foundation and The Center are made hopeful by what we are witnessing. Accordingly, we plan to advocate alongside our partners to ensure the billions of dollars that flow from these efforts are about more than bridges and roads. We will collaborate with communities in our region and across our state to ensure recovery discussions include their ideas and aspirations for healthier regional economies and communities. This could include replacing dilapidated schools, reducing air pollution, ramping up the construction of affordable housing, ensuring everyone has access to clean water, and investing in the technological and human capital our public health infrastructure requires to better serve us all. Doing so will create economic opportunities and improve living conditions and health outcomes now and for generations to come in communities many essential workers call home.

At Sierra Health Foundation and The Center, we believe that once-in-a-generation federal spending and record-setting state budget surpluses make these goals attainable. As we work through the Omicron-driven COVID-19 spike, lets organize, build community power and plan a recovery that honors the contributions of low-wage essential workers. No performative talk, excuses or backtracking. Let’s start this year with a non-negotiable commitment to building the inclusive, equitable and healthy California for all right now.