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A Q&A with Charis Baz, new president of the Public Health Alumni Association

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health welcomes Charis Baz as 2020–21 president of the UC Berkeley Public Health Alumni Association Board of Directors. Baz has been on the board for 3 years and Baz graduated from Berkeley Public Health with an MPH in 2017.

With a certificate in health informatics, Baz combines her previous background in information technology with a multidisciplinary take on public health.

As the new president of the PHAA board of directors, what does your role entail?

I coordinate the activities of a diverse and engaged board of alumni of the school who come from a variety of different years and programs and who are all seeking to connect to the mission and activities of the school. The board and I provide opportunities for alumni to continue learning and connecting with each other. Part of my role is to be a liaison between school leadership and the PHAA board of directors.

What are your goals for PHAA this year? How has anything changed in light of the pandemic?

My goal on the board this year is to encourage equal voices at the table; in other words, bringing the board to a state of full participation by encouraging everyone to participate in the conversation.

It’s harder this year because we tend to do a lot of in-person events. But we are learning how to stay engaged and do the work and stay connected without necessarily getting burnt out on Zoom. Luckily, the board has experience putting on webinars and [online] activities so we’re used to remote participation. While it is challenging to do that work, we see it as an opportunity to partner with alumni around the world who were not as engaged with the alumni association.

Alongside your work at the PHAA, you also work at the Marin County Health and Human Services Whole Person Care program. What is that work like?

Whole Person Care is a Medicaid innovation pilot that the state of California is using to provide wraparound services for the most vulnerable populations. In Marin County, we’re using it to coordinate care and data across four domains: housing, public benefits, medical care, and behavioral health. Marin’s Whole Person Care unit is the backbone organization that provides technical assistance, a care coordination platform, and acts as a convener of different county and community groups across the care ecosystem. Our focus in Marin is on people experiencing homelessness, but we also serve highly complex individuals who are on Medi-Cal.

Our goal in Marin is to end chronic homeless by 2022. We are housing the most vulnerable first person-by-person, name-by-name, week-by-week. We coordinate with the community of care providers about that person and so we know what they will need. Getting people housed doesn’t just involve getting housing. They also need medical care. Some may need behavioral care or substance abuse treatment. Some may need to have their CalFresh (food stamps) or other benefits applications done.

What inspires your work in public health?

I really like working on multidisciplinary coordination projects. In my previous role in the Tang Center, I co-led the integration of Behavioral Health into primary care for students. I like supporting multidisciplinary teams in designing and implementing services, especially for those in need. I think that applies throughout my career and certainly in what we do in Marin County now.

What are you most excited about this year for PHAA?

We see this as an opportunity to do some great work with the alumni of the school, who continue to gear their work toward social justice. The faculty, staff, students, and alumni are showing their true activist natures in the face of all this societal pressure and it’s exciting.