Five Opportunities for Philanthropy in COVID-19 Response: A Conversation With Secretary Mark Ghaley and Dr. Sandra Hernández

Last month, Philanthropy California virtually convened over 600 funders from across California for a day dedicated to philanthropy's role in strengthening our democracy and civic engagement during this unprecedented moment. Now, we are excited to launch our Post-Policy Summit Blog Series in order to elevate key learnings from the Summit and to further the conversations we began to explore. 

California’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has focused on providing immediate relief across the state. As we move into the next phase of this pandemic, it will become increasingly urgent for California to enact long-term plans to rebuild our social and economic infrastructure. Philanthropy has the unique ability to support our public institutions by holding space for future thinking and planning. 

For the 2020 Philanthropy California Virtual Policy Summit, we invited Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California's Health Care Services Agency and Dr. Sandra Hernández, President & CEO of the California Healthcare Foundation to discuss California’s current response efforts and share key opportunities for philanthropy to align with state agencies to support communities across the state. 



California’s overwhelming compliance and support of the Governor’s “Stay-at-Home Order” has led to a unique opportunity for the state to focus on COVID-19 hotspots and its hardest-hit communities. In the coming months, California will need to direct resources into protecting populations that are at high-risk for transmission. 

California’s historically underserved and overlooked populations are shouldering an undue burden of COVID-19 as the virus is disproportionately impacting brown and black communities across the state. Many of these communities have large numbers of essential workers who are going to work without the necessary personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID. This dire situation also plays out with some of California’s most at-risk facilities, such as residential care facilities for the elderly, foster youth facilities, jails and prison, homeless shelters and encampments, spaces of the congregation, and many more. These facilities need better access to testing, staffing, and broad-scale communication to slow down the transmission of COVID-19. Through a new initiative, California will soon be setting up nearly 100 new sites for testing across the state, focused on lower-income communities that are considered testing deserts. However, there continues to be an urgency in making sure that our communities have equitable access to affordable testing. 


For the last two months, California’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has focused on mitigation and containment efforts. As California enters the suppression phase of the pandemic, the state will begin directing its resources to quickly identify potential transmission hotspots through testing, tracking, isolating, and quarantining infected people. These strategies will look different across the state and in various communities. 

In the coming weeks, Governor Newsom will bring thousands of new contact tracing staff into local health departments to support suppression efforts. However, the state will still need additional capacity in order to bring contact tracing, isolation, and targeted quarantine to all communities affected by COVID-19. California will look to its philanthropic partners to help communicate with and support diverse communities across the state. Because funders have relationships with community leaders and members, which make them credible messengers, community members are more likely to trust and engage with them. Philanthropy has the opportunity to leverage its relationships with community-based organizations to support communities in culturally responsive ways. 
Additionally, California’s suppression efforts for the next 18-24 months will likely result in the creation of jobs for people who are currently unemployed or underemployed. These new jobs have the potential to become a tremendous stimulus and public health opportunity for California. There is an opportunity for philanthropy and health-focused foundations to launch various economic development and workforce development programs. For the nonprofit sector, it will be increasingly important to synchronize with public institutions to ensure that jobs get developed in places where they're most needed. 


Project Roomkey is a partnership between Governor Newsom, California’s Social Services Department, and various business and community development colleagues. It is designed to provide housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, who are often burdened by significant chronic illness and a higher risk of mortality from COVID-19. Since its inception, this initiative has not only become an opportunity to move thousands of vulnerable and unsheltered individuals into hotels with the services they need but also a way to help hotels with a secure source of business and revenue. Down the road, there is an opportunity to turn some of the Project Roomkey facilities into permanent, supportive housing for a considerable segment of our population facing homelessness.

For Project Roomkey to be widely adopted across California, Philanthropy can play an essential role in advocating for the initiative as a key strategy in creating long-term permanent housing. By providing safe shelters for individuals in need, we can, in turn, prevent our health system from becoming overwhelmed.   


COVID-19 is a call to action for philanthropy to come together and establish ways to work jointly with the Governor, the California Department of Public Health, and other state agencies. As the state continues to give guidance, resources, and set guardrails, local communities must take charge in figuring out their unique regional opportunities and challenges. Fortunately, many of these locations already have community foundations with deep roots in historically underserved communities. Leveraging their relationships with businesses, local health departments, universities, and many others, philanthropic institutions can support the administration's efforts to maximize impact. There is an opportunity for philanthropy to continue aligning with local governments to ensure that marginalized communities don’t suffer preventable outcomes. 


It is time to start planning for the long-term economic and public health challenges that will emerge in the next 1-3 years or risk missing a pivotal opportunity to rewrite history for decades to come. Philanthropy must ask: “What have we learned from this? What does it mean for our funding? What will our delivery system look like in the future?” Everything we have learned from this moment is going to be critical and philanthropy will need to work with local and state governments on the policy solutions that will move our state forward. 



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