UCSF in the Community: An Obligation and Opportunity
Public service has long been a part of the University’s fourfold mission, a commitment that usually involves the other three — teaching, conducting research and providing patient care.
This sense of social responsibility has deep roots at the health sciences university, dating back to its pioneering days as the Affiliated Colleges — the precursor to UCSF. Doctors and students from the medical school descended from Parnassus Heights to treat the ill and injured who gathered in Golden Gate Park after the 1906 earthquake.
Today, UCSF’s faculty, staff and students are engaged in numerous community-based partnerships and programs – whether it’s treating underserved, high-risk homeless patients at the Glide Health Services clinic, volunteering in San Francisco’s public schools to improve science education or offering free lectures in women’s health available to all via the Internet.
UCSF’s diverse group of grassroots community partnerships are now gaining renewed attention with an eye toward forging more programs and ensuring their quality and integrity.
In fact, to better understand the breadth and depth of UCSF’s community service activities and to make recommendations on how to improve its impact, UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Eugene Washington in July 2004 convened a Task Force on Community Partnerships consisting of 20 members — representing diverse sectors of all four schools and the medical center — to take an inventory.
A web-based survey to compile that inventory found UCSF has more than 60 programs, involving more than 28 different departments and units — all benefitting hundreds of men, women and children in the Bay Area every year.
“Many of these programs are exemplary models of academic-community partnerships characterized by sustained relationships between partners, sharing of leadership and power, and lessons humbly learned,” the task force reported in August 2005.
One of the more important lessons that UCSF has learned over the past decade is to involve the community early on when planning for major construction projects. The Community Advisory Group (CAG) and its subcommittees have played an integral role in helping the University to realize its dreams at Mission Bay and elsewhere while fostering a respectful relationship. At times, the ongoing dialogue involves reaching a compromise to address neighbors’ concerns. The resulting, less contentious relationship with the community during the expansion at Mission Bay represents a marked improvement over the neighborhood disputes that erupted over planning for facilities at its Parnassus and Laurel Heights campuses.
“We have both an obligation and an opportunity,” says Nancy Adler, PhD, professor of psychiatry, director of the UCSF Center for Health and Community, and member of the task force. “Community relations are so important. The task force report showed that we have to be there for the long haul. For example, researchers just can’t parachute down for one study and go. We need the institutional support necessary to cultivate strong and sustainable partnerships.”
To this end, UCSF is following up on several of the recommendations made by the task force, which was headed by Kevin Grumbach, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. UCSF recently launched the University-Community Partnerships Program, which will “champion civic engagement and provide visible and influential leadership for community partnerships,” as well as serve as a central clearinghouse and coordinating center for these activities.
To guide the program, UCSF has formed a University-Community Partnerships Council to serve in an advisory role to develop the principles, plans and priorities of UCSF’s community-based programs and to review progress. Consisting of 10 UCSF representatives and 10 members of the community, the council is charged with improving the University’s presence and participation in community partnerships an addressing community needs. See story on council here.
As UCSF and its many community partners can attest, partnerships are by nature mutually beneficial and, to be successful, depend on sharing a common interest and building trust.
When John Nickens, PhD, clinical director of the Progress Foundation, a residential care provider in San Francisco for the severely mentally ill, needed to integrate primary care services with mental health care, he called upon the UCSF School of Nursing. At that time, faculty in the school’s Department of Community Health Systems needed teaching sites for their students.
The resulting 11-year UCSF-Progress Foundation partnership has had multifold benefits, Nickens said.
“Access to primary care has resulted in fewer visits to medical emergency rooms, saving millions of dollars for the community health system,” he said. “Clients also have learned, through one-to-one relationships with the nurses, how to understand and manage their medical conditions, which has allowed for more successful and more enduring community stays. Lastly, clients who otherwise might have been retained in inpatient confinement have been able to access community treatment programs due to the presence of primary care services on-site in the residential treatment program.