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California Surgeon General Wants More Screening

We were thrilled to speak to California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris again as part of our ongoing COVID-19 Rising to Meet the Moment interview series.

What’s new: Since our last conversation in April, the pandemic has only worsened in California and throughout the country. Huge health and economic impacts from the pandemic coupled with the Black Lives Matter protests stemming from the death of George Floyd create an environment ripe for behavioral health challenges:

  • “One of the things that I’d like to say to folks is if it feels hard, it’s because it is hard. We are in a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic which has created a once-in-75-years economic downturn. We’re experiencing a once-in-50 years level of civic uprising in terms of addressing fundamental civil rights issues, human rights issues, racism in our nation. And so there’s so much that’s happening now and we recognize that it does affect people’s health and their wellbeing.

What the Surgeon General is doing: 

  • Advocating for suicide screening by sending a letter to providerswith the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and the Department of Public Health: “We know that this is an important part of providing comprehensive care and at the same time, it’s never been more important than now during this critical period that we’re in.”
  • Pushing for more trauma-informed care through a letter to health plans and providers with DHCS and the Department of Managed Health Care: “We all need to respond with trauma-informed care and know what to look for in our patients as to what these secondary impacts of COVID-19 might look like.”
  • Sharing stress relief tips with the Playbook on Stress Relief, including staying connected, getting regular exercise and good sleep and seeking mental health care.

Before COVID-19, the Surgeon General launched ACEs Aware, a campaign to give Medi-Cal providers training on screening for adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

  • Dr. Burke Harris told us ACEs are only increasing during the pandemic: “It’s incredibly timely that the State of California really took a leadership role in responding to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as a public health threat.” 

On Black Lives Matter: We have to address the systemic and structural racism that have been embedded in the structure of American society since its inception. And it’s incumbent upon all of us to be part of dismantling these systems because we have to recognize that they are leading to disease and death. It’s up to all of us.” 

One final thought: “We all know that the body doesn’t stop at the neck. Somehow we’ve set up our healthcare systems as if that were what happens. But increasingly the science shows that that is such an artificial designation and that what affects our physical health also affects our mental and behavioral health and vice versa. I think increasingly we’re all understanding that mental and behavioral health is health, just full stop.”

  • One (more) final thought: “We want to recognize that all of the pieces that we’re talking about when we’re talking about prevention  early identification, early intervention – all of those are equally as important with our mental and behavioral health.” 
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