This Women’s History Month, California Black Media is profiling three Black women on the leading edge of California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This week is California Government Operations Secretary Yolanda Richardson.
In January 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Yolanda Richardson as California’s new Secretary of the Government Operations Agency. Now, one year into that role, the governor has charged Richardson with spearheading California’s vaccination distribution.
That’s in addition to other COVID-19 emergency response initiatives she leads, including promoting equitable testing and supplying personal protective equipment where needed to keep California’s population of 40 million people safer.
Richardson hit the ground running responding to the COVID-19 pandemic four days after being sworn into office by Newsom. She is responsible for 11 state departments and programs that ensure that the California state government runs smoothly and achieves its goal of overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic.
Richardson’s passion for problem-solving was an effective tool in boosting state efforts to build a coronavirus testing laboratory and establishing a vaccine task force. Her 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry has sharpened her expertise and “get-it-done” leadership style as one of three African American women to lead California’s efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A major challenge for Richardson was, “being thrust into a situation,” to fight the pandemic and find new ways to “get things done in an environment in which we never imagined,” she said.
“The biggest challenge to us has been: How do we keep state government working effectively and continuing to deliver services efficiently,” said Richardson.
Despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, Richardson saw an opportunity to support legislation that enabled Californians to make a smooth transition to work-from-home and homeschooling policies. The operation’s team also implemented the governor’s plans to manage $7.6 billion in COVID-19 relief funds, $6.6 billion for state schools, and $30 million in grants to support local organizations.
“The biggest win was that people did what they needed to continue moving forward during one of the biggest shifts our state has seen,” said Richardson.
The state of California has partnered with various community-based organizations, leaders, and businesses, a unique approach to the pandemic, in efforts to promote equity, she said.
“In everything we do, we have to be thoughtful about all of the different situations that we find people in,” said Richardson. “I think the state has just done an amazing job of really thinking about being thoughtful and trying to make sure that the approaches and the things that we do meet people where they are.”
The state’s operations team continues to evaluate progress through data-tracking and managing collaborative efforts with community partners to make sure the state achieves its desired outcomes, she said.
Richardson discussed racial equity in the healthcare system with medical experts and leaders in the Black and Latino caucuses, as part of Newsom’s plans to provide community clinics and health centers with COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
“I’m very passionate about allocating more vaccines to our communities that are mostly populated by Black and Brown people,” said Richardson. “I am very much committed to using my voice and the platform I’ve been blessed with to make sure that I do everything I can to help those in need.”
Vaccine hesitancy fueled by misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 has made it hard for the state to reach vulnerable populations in low-income areas, according to state officials. However, community leaders expressed concerns regarding access to adequate health care, COVID-19 testing, vaccine distribution.
“We’re leveraging trusted advisors, using people in the community that the communities listened to the most,” Richardson said. “We’re looking at all the different strategies we can employ that are most comfortable and familiar to those in diverse communities so that they can feel comfortable about getting the vaccine.”
Among her list of impressive titles, Richardson is a proud mother of two, an enthusiastic dog owner and wife to her husband of 23 years, who are the anchor to her sanity and peace, she said.
“I have an amazing family that is very supportive,” Richardson said. “I am very blessed to have a beautiful family that keeps me balanced.”
Although balance is hard for any leader, Richardson said her operations team has pushed her to accomplish California’s objectives in serving communities statewide. California’s leaders still have a long road ahead to achieve its goal of overcoming the pandemic and safely reopening the state.
“There’s so much to do, we joke and say every day is Monday in the state of California. But I have the most extraordinary colleagues who have been a huge support,” said Richardson.