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West Oakland Health Council Appoints Benjamin Pettus as CEO

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Sharing his vision for the future, newly appointed West Oakland Health Council (WHOC) CEO Benjamin Pettus says “a change is coming” at the health center, which will mark its 50th anniversary in 2017.

 

 

Pettus spoke June 30 at reception in his honor.

 

“As the healthcare environment and our neighborhoods are rapidly changing, what stays the same is our deeply held belief that our community has a right to health,” he said. “We are steadfast in our commitment to providing the highest quality and compassionate care for our patients.”

 

For forty-nine years WHOC, located at 700 Adeline St in Oakland, has built its reputation as the health care partner of choice for prenatal and birthing care in West Oakland as well as in areas of pediatrics; chronic disease management; substance abuse and recovery services; mental health care and dental care.

 

Pettus’ vision goes beyond the effective job WOHC is performing currently to the community. “We need a state of the art facility to continue, not just to provide quality care but to have the ability to hire and retain the best talent,” he said.

 

In addition to the need for a new facility, Pettus’ key priorities are focused on rebuilding a team of talented professionals, continuing to improve patient experiences, strengthening financial systems and the development of a new strategic plan in collaboration with the Board of Directors.

 

In attendance at Thursday’s reception were Congresswoman Barbara Lee; Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson; Captain John Moroney, M.D., administrator Region 9 of the Health Resources & Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services; Kathleen Clanon, M.D., Medical Director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, with the opening invocation by Rev. Dwayne Fisher.

 

“Quality health care should be accessible to everyone without thought of income with health care that addresses all aspects of the mind and body, said Rep. Lee. We have to keep fighting for the funding, and I want to commend WOHC, which did so in a dignified forthright manner.”

 

‘We are continuing a resurgence that ideal young radicals had 40 to 50 years ago that health care must be affordable in the community,” said Supervisor Carson.

 

Benjamin Pettus most recently served as President of Health Care Associates, Inc., in Kansas City, Missouri. Formerly, he was CEO of a number of health care centers throughout the nation, including Ko’olauloa Community Health and Wellness Center in Kahuku, Hawaii, the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Missouri Coalition for Primary Health Care in Jefferson City, Missouri.

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Activism

Grocery Inflation Causes Food Banks to be the Default for Families in Oakland

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

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Photo: iStock image.
Photo: iStock image.

By Magaly Muñoz

During the past three years, the US has seen the largest increase in food prices since the 1980s. In response to this crisis, community food banks have emerged to provide much-needed assistance to families in need.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that national food prices have increased 11% from 2021 to 2022, when the average yearly increase was previously 2%. The San Francisco Bay Area saw a 12% increase from 2021 to 2022.

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

While still maintaining that elevated prices will persist for the foreseeable future, Morris anticipates a decrease of 8% in food price increases.

He also stated that while the average person may spend 10% of their income on groceries, a low-income family may spend 30%, making the inflation in food prices that much harsher.

“Higher food prices can put people in a position where they have to make some tough choices between ‘can they go to the grocery store and buy food’ or ‘do they have to spend it on other necessities like home or health care or other things,’” Morris said.

Michael Altfest is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing for Alameda County (AC) Food Bank, the primary food distributor in the county with over 400 community partners that receive frequent donations.

Altfest shared that from 2019 to 2023, the number of pounds of food distributed to their community partners has doubled. In 2019, the food bank distributed 32.5 million pounds of food, while in 2021 during the height of the pandemic, they distributed 58.1 million pounds. This year they are on pace to distribute almost 60 million pounds of food.

“If we’re on pace this year to provide more than we did in the pandemic, I think that says a lot about what the state of hunger is right now,” Altfest said.

During the height of the pandemic, state and federal government relief programs helped families offset significant expenses like groceries. These programs included the child tax credit increase that put anywhere from $2,000 up to $3,600 back into qualifying families pockets when filing their yearly taxes.

Another program that directly targeted food insecurity, was the increase in funds for SNAP or CalFresh. These government programs provide food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people to help them maintain adequate nutrition and health. But earlier this spring, funding was cut from the state program CalFresh and families saw at least a $95 decrease in their assistance.

“Every single person talks about the cost of living in Alameda County, every single person. The cost of rent, the cost of food, those are things that come up every single time without fail,” Altfest shared.

One of AC Food Bank’s community partners is Homies Empowerment, a non-profit in Oakland that was established as a means to support youth and the community through a positive lens.

Selena Duarte, the FREEdom Store Coordinator, said the organization’s initiative to help families with food provision began in May of 2020 when their original store was filled only with books and students told them that while it was nice to have things to read, “they can’t eat books,” showing the team at Homies Empowerment that there were bigger needs in the community that they had to address.

Since then, the organization has expanded its services. They now provide groceries every Tuesday, have established the FREEdom Farm where they grow produce that gets distributed in their make-shift store, offer hot breakfast to 40 students and their families five days a week, and much more.

Duarte said that they serve almost 400 families a week and they are continuing to expand their food services due to the increasing number of people coming to them seeking help to reduce their spending on groceries. She recognized that although people say that the “pandemic is over”, she knows that the stress that families are experiencing is still very real.

“The next phase is really becoming a sustainable community food hub, where literally we can grow, share, cook, and store our food here in the community and for the community,” Duarte said.

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Bay Area

‘Skh,’’ UbuNtu’ and Climate Change: A Black Spiritual Issue

Climate change is a critically important issue for all people, especially Black people. As seen through the lens of Skh, The Science of Being and UbuNtu, the core grounding thought in African philosophy, climate as an expression of the eco-system is most important, yet least understood by every day, walk-around, regular Black folk. Advanced African (Black) Psychology, Skh, recognizes that we are “Spirit Beings” just as the environment and its various climatic conditions are spirit-defined and spirit-driven.

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The ABPsi-Bay Area is a restorative (healing) resource committed to providing the Post Newspaper Group readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. Join us at our monthly chapter meetings every third Saturday via Zoom and/or contact us at bayareaabpsi@gmail.com.
The ABPsi-Bay Area is a restorative (healing) resource committed to providing the Post Newspaper Group readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. Join us at our monthly chapter meetings every third Saturday via Zoom and/or contact us at bayareaabpsi@gmail.com.

By Baba Dr. Wade Ifágbemì Sàngódáre Nobles,

ABPsi-Bay Area Chapter Elder Emeritus

Climate change is a critically important issue for all people, especially Black people. As seen through the lens of Skh, The Science of Being and UbuNtu, the core grounding thought in African philosophy, climate as an expression of the eco-system is most important, yet least understood by every day, walk-around, regular Black folk.

Advanced African (Black) Psychology, Skh, recognizes that we are “Spirit Beings” just as the environment and its various climatic conditions are spirit-defined and spirit-driven. The “Ntu” in UbuNtu is the modal point at which all be-ing assumes concrete form. Ntu is a mode of be-ing in the process of continual unfolding. Through UbuNtu, people are seen as MuNtu, intelligent beings that are living, the dwellers of the after-life (dead), those yet-to-be-born as well as the orishas, loas and ancestors.

The environment is seen as KiNtu, all the material, physical phenomena like mountains, animals, trees, rivers, plants, etc. Even feelings like joy, beauty, laughter, love, sadness, hate, etc. are considered spirit and called KuNtu. Time, place and space are called HaNtu.

At the level of spirit (essence), people (MuNtu) and plants (KiNtu) as ecosystems are the same. In fact, the essential relationship we all learned in elementary school was that “people breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide; plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.” Hence, people and plants need each other.

Black people (MuNtu) are inextricably related to everything in the natural environment (KiNtu). This oneness is also revealed in the statement “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” meaning, it is in recognizing others as human and acting on those bases, that one becomes fully human. As equally spirit beings, our becoming fully human depends on our recognizing the spiritness of other beings (and nature). In fact, the natural world is a spirit-driven actor that responds to destructive and threatening treatment. Some even believe that the uncommon heat waves, floods, earthquakes, droughts, arctic storms and glacial meltdowns being experienced are spirit-defined consequences of a contaminated Earth and toxic environment.

If we look at today’s Oakland skyline with the imposition of high-rise buildings, apartment complexes, luxury condominiums, and concrete parking lots, one can see that Oakland is or has become the epitome of a concrete jungle that is absent of or has minimal acreage dedicated to natural life.

Oakland as a “being” is screaming, “I can’t breathe!”  Climate change, from this perspective, should be included in the compendium of anti-Black phenomena like government-sanctioned police killings, poorly funded schools, food deserts, unemployment, political disenfranchisement, cultural appropriation, classism, sexism, white supremist, etc.

Though hidden right before our eyes, the most obvious visible climate assaults in the Black community are toxic waste dumps, poor sanitation, water pollution, asbestos infiltration, diminished Black farming, asthma corridors, and energy apartheid. These are ever-present yet invisible as the results of climate change in a spirit-defined ecosystem, an ecosystem that has been ‘de-spirited’ by a Western culture that sanctions these anti-Black phenomena. As these realities have impact on KiNtu (the natural environment), they also have negative impacts on Black people (MuNtu).

UbuNtu and Skh should be lifted up as critical meaning-making thought systems that can be used to change the fundamental understanding of our contemporary worldview and episteme. This will allow us to address the essence (spirit) of climate that is an expression of our ecosystem.

Accordingly, we can then see our relationship with the Earth and the destiny of its living resources. Understanding and sharing this should be the work of Black teachers, preachers, counselors, advisors, parents and those of us in every walk of life.

Black people as DEMM (divine energy made manifest) people cannot walk in the world as Dignity itself, if the planet is polluted. With or through UbuNtu, if the environment is not well, then the people cannot be well and vice versa. Black people cannot live as beings characterized by confidence, competence, and a sense of full possibilities and unlimited potentialities who walk in the world with Dignity when the environment is being harmed and destroyed.

When we rescue and reclaim our way, the issue of addressing our ecosystem and preventing the deterioration of the climate will be the Black way of life. Climate change is Black people’s business. Locally, nationally and globally, Black people, with the help of the Bay Area Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi-Bay Area), the UbuNtu Climate Change Initiative, and like organizations, must organize and fight against the agents and agencies profiteering and orchestrating the harm and killing of Black people and the planet, ergo, climate change.

The ABPsi-Bay Area is a restorative (healing) resource committed to providing the Post Newspaper Group readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. Join us at our monthly chapter meetings every third Saturday via Zoom and/or contact us at bayareaabpsi@gmail.com.

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Bay Area

Alameda County Receives Grant to Help Mentally Struggling Individuals in the Justice System

Alameda County has received an $8.25 million grant from the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) to expand residential care options for up to 88 people who have been found incompetent to stand trial after being charged with felony offenses. The grant will support the Alameda County Behavioral Health Department (ACBHD) in its mission to ensure that those in the criminal justice system suffering from serious mental illness receive behavioral health services in non-prison settings.

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John George Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: Alameda Health System.
John George Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: Alameda Health System.

By Magaly Muñoz

Alameda County has received an $8.25 million grant from the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) to expand residential care options for up to 88 people who have been found incompetent to stand trial after being charged with felony offenses.

The grant will support the Alameda County Behavioral Health Department (ACBHD) in its mission to ensure that those in the criminal justice system suffering from serious mental illness receive behavioral health services in non-prison settings.

Juan Taizan, Director of Forensic Diversion and Re-Entry Services, said that consideration for eligibility for these mental health services is determined by the judge, the district attorney and the public defender on the case. Once a person is accepted, the care is tailored to each individual’s mental capacity.

“A clinical team will meet with the client, assess for medication needs, assess for individual therapeutic needs, and then really work with them around education, and competency education in particular, to help them understand their role in the court process,” Taizan said.

How a court will proceed with an individual’s case is based on a psychiatrist’s recommendation regarding their progress in treatment or whether they will need additional mental health services.

James Wagner, Deputy Director of ACBHD, said the severity of the person’s crime does determine eligibility. The individual could have committed a minor crime, like theft, or a major crime where someone was hurt, but the determination comes from whether the person is stable and mentally competent to endure and participate in a trial. They also are required to have received a felony charge or are likely to receive one.

Mental health facilities already exist in the county, but facilities that cater to those going through the justice system are now in the process of being built and resourced through the multi-million dollar grant.

The treatment in these facilities will vary on a case-by-case basis, but they’ll likely mimic locked institutions or involuntary treatment facilities because most of the clients are not yet ready to be reintegrated into the community.

Wagner said treatment plans for the individuals will include participation with a social worker, therapist or case manager on developing their goals. They’ll also attend rehab classes, be allowed socialization with other patients, receive individual counseling, and participate in group meals as a collective.

Taizan emphasized the need to have these treatment facilities available to allow for individuals to grow and be given the resources to help with their mental health difficulties in a less restrictive environment than incarceration.

“This funding really allows us to get these specific clients who would otherwise be waiting in jail for a state hospital bed to open up. It allows us to divert them to a treatment facility, in their community, where they can be best served, and with a goal of getting the treatment they need and being restored to competency,” Taizan said.

Imprisonment has historically been used as a solution to keep mentally ill individuals off the streets as opposed to giving them fair health treatment. Over 40% of people in jails and prisons have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Shannon Scully, Director of Justice Policy and Initiatives for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), told the Post that most states and local governments are grappling with how to go from using incarceration as a solution to making more beds available for treatment.

Scully said that a lot of the crimes that people who are experiencing mental health crises are petty crimes or homelessness, which many cities across the country have criminalized, but have largely affected vulnerable communities.

She added that if national and local municipalities focused more on investing in social programs centered around housing, food accessibility and affordable health care, along with prioritizing treatment with voluntary therapy and medication, we could avoid the mass incarceration of these mentally ill individuals.

“What we want to see is a mental health response when you know there’s behaviors happening in our community from people with mental health conditions that might be concerning to us, and we, as the public, identify this as a mental health issue and not as a public safety or crime issue,” Scully said.

Neither Taizan nor Wagner could provide a timeline for procuring the necessary beds for the treatment facilities, but the county has until 2028 to spend the funding.

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