NEWS | May 21, 2020

How Sacramento’s history has shaped today’s health care disparities [video]

Tour gives UC Davis Health leaders new perspective on health system’s impact


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(SACRAMENTO) — Neighborhoods of Sacramento tell a story. Tales of privilege, discrimination and migration patterns. While zip codes determine areas for postal services, neighborhoods profoundly shape the health, education and personal outcomes of their inhabitants.

“Our neighborhood borders date all the way back to the 1930s with the history of redlining and the Roosevelt administration, where the public funds were diverted to the suburbs,” said Jann Murray-García, an associate clinical professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “If you were a person of color who wanted to live in a suburb, you could not get a home loan. That has translated into different levels of health care quality and access. Those patterns can still be seen today.”

Murray-García understands the value of historical knowledge. So, back in January, before social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic, she invited the leadership team of UC Davis Health for an afternoon to learn, first-hand, the evolution of the social determinants of health.

“There’s so much that we can learn from the community and actually seeing the community – not just driving to a place but to take it all in miles and miles at a time,” Murray-García said.

The group gathered in a van and started the tour a few blocks away from the UC Davis Health campus – in the historic Sacramento neighborhood of Oak Park. Urban sociologist Jesus Hernandez provided context along the way.

For David Lubarsky, chief executive officer of UC Davis Health, the experience was eye-opening to see the distinction between neighborhoods within the same zip code and how that distinction maps today’s geography of health disparities in Sacramento.

“We all have incredible common ground. We want our families to be safe and secure. We want access to the support services that every city should provide, police, fire, health care ,” Lubarsky said. “Taking a moment to slow down and just see that maybe we're not getting all the people, all the help that they need is important."


Hendry Ton, center, discusses the history of Sacramento’s neighborhoods with urban sociologist Jesus Hernandez, right, after a tour in January.

As the group continued to New Helvetia, parts of downtown Sacramento and Del Paso Heights, it wasn’t just a drive-by glance. The leaders got out and spoke with community members, who gave the them a greater understanding of their attributes and challenges.

“When you take a moment to talk to a bookstore owner or the principal of a local high school…you really get an idea that, well, first of all, we all have incredible common ground,” Lubarsky said.

“I think listening is the most important part,” added Hendry Ton, associate vice chancellor for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and van trip participant. “It's when you understand their experience that you can then be relevant for whatever the next steps are in your relationship.”

UC Davis School of Medicine Dean Allison Brashear spoke about the opportunity a large medical school has to make such an impact on underserved populations. This includes policy changes and bringing in future physicians from these neighborhoods who understand these communities.

“One of the ways we do that within the School of Medicine is with our pathway programs that go out and find people from diverse backgrounds who are committed to [eliminating] health disparities and bring them into the fold of potential providers,” Brashear said.

“It’s a chance to make students and faculty aware of these things, mainly because we focus a lot on hospital care, which is very important,” added Stephen Cavanagh, dean for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “But the future is going to be how we work with our communities – how we partner with communities and understand their needs and wants and how we can help them improve.”

Murray-García hopes this trip sparks a long-term conversation.

“We would make a mistake looking past the expertise that that resides in our communities that we're actually commissioned to serve as a land grant public university,” she said.

To see where the leaders went, view this video.

UC Davis Health is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. For more information, visit health.ucdavis.edu. Additional stories about the commitment of UC Davis Health to low-income patients and medically underserved communities is here.