Q&A with Rosa Vivian Fernandez

rosa vivian fernandezRosa Vivian Fernandez MPH ’91 has served on the Public Health Alumni Association Board of Directors since 2009. Rosa Vivian received her MPH in Health Education and Program Planning in 1991. She is a fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives and has worked in the community health center movement for over 25 years. She currently serves as the president and CEO of a rural migrant/community health center located in Hollister, California.

Q. Tell us about San Benito Health Foundation (SBHF) and the work you do there.
A. For the past 11 years, I have had the privilege of leading a diverse group of health professionals and community members in the provision of multidisciplinary health services to the community of San Benito County. SBHF was founded over 40 years ago in response to the need for compassionate clinical care for the migrant farmworkers who traveled to San Benito County to work in agriculture from Mexico and other Latin American counties. Our organization seeks to provide early preventive health services to our community while also addressing the health needs of those with clinical care needs in order to optimize well-being. Our team includes an array of clinical staff including physicians, nurse practitioners, dentist, registered dietitians, health educators, and case managers. We also have an extremely talented and caring support team that is integral to the successful service delivery system. While we are a separate entity to public health, we partner with public health ensuring that the community has access to preventive health services and educational services for optimal well-being.

My work with the organization began in 2004. In my daily work I provide guidance in financial management and in program planning, development, and implementation to ensure that we support the mission of the organization. I also work closely with our Board of Directors, whose members represent the community, the patients, and families receiving services at the health center to ensure that their feedback and policies lead to viable programs in the benefit of the community.

Q. How has the Affordable Care Act changed how you do business?
A. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has changed the way we do business in exciting ways. As community health centers, we have long focused on prevention as a means of service delivery and community well-being; the ACA has empowered us to continue to shape the future service delivery system in alignment with our mission of prevention. We have also seen changes in how diverse groups of individuals coalesce in a clinical environment as a team for patient care. The hierarchy of care is more equitable in our environment as the formally titled medical assistants are recognized as patient care specialists and advocates in partnership with the clinical providers in care of our patients. We also have a more vibrant and active teaching model, where we are teaching and learning from each other’s expertise, our patients, and actively transforming our system of care to meet the needs of our patients, their families, and the community.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your work at SBHF?
A. The fact that we make a difference in people we touch. We deal with human life and, at times, very difficult, sensitive situations—but after all is said and done, we know that each day we have planted a seed that can lead to great things for our patients, their families, our staff, the community, and the world. It is a very hard career, but a very rewarding one if you are willing to give what it takes to make a positive change in the world.

Q. How did the education you received at the School help you in your current work?
A. My education at Berkeley provided a well-rounded experience that has led to great career opportunities. I never thought I would lead a community health center; my focus and interest while at Berkeley was health education and community advocacy. However, I was exposed to many successful community health center leaders with public health backgrounds who guided my career and provided exposure to new work experiences. I believe that a public health education has given me the foundation to engage in diverse professional environments while remaining true to my mission of service delivery and my passion for equity and community well-being. Prevention, financial prudency in management, social justice, and the concepts of social determinants of health are not foreign or new concepts—they are the foundation of our work.

Q. What motivated you to become involved with the PHAA Board? 
UC Berkeley has a vast network of alums in diverse professional environments, which has been instrumental in my career development. It is through this network that I was encouraged to join the Board. It was an opportunity to further connect with alumni and current students in order to be a resource to others and reengage with my alma mater. I am also interested in workforce development and ensuring that our School is responsive to the current and future needs of our communities while fostering successful employability and career development of our graduates.

Q. What advice do you have for current students and alumni?
A. I would say that they should keep their options open. Take the opportunities offered and see the positive in all tasks no matter how insignificant they may seem at present time. Resiliency and hard work is what make dreams come true, and opportunities come from least-expected places.