Patricia Erwin: Serving people, respecting cultures

Patricia Erwin is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese but she heads up health care programs in Bosnian, Vietnamese, Russian and Spanish for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“I don’t do any direct services,” said Erwin. “Really, our staff are the liaisons for us between the community and us as program developers and managers because I couldn’t speak all of those languages.”

Erwin is the program manager for Newcomers Health Program, a special services program that is a subset of the San Francisco Department of Health. The program serves the community health needs of recent immigrants and refugees. She joined in January 1998.

Erwin had worked in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Through that experience, she affirmed her commitment to international health and development. She obtained her master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley but did not have an easy time finding work when she graduated.

“It was challenging for me to get a job overseas and there was more opportunity here in the Bay Area,” said Erwin. “But then I saw this opportunity working with refugees and immigrants in the Bay Area and it fit perfectly with my interests.”

The Newcomers Health Program is nearly 30 years old. It spawned from the healthcare needs of Southeast Asian refugees who fled their country after the Vietnam war. Erwin said that in those days, the focus was on increasing awareness to the refugees about the availability of the programs. But now, she says, her aspirations for the program go beyond simple healthcare availability and more toward cultural, quality of life programs.

The Sunset project is a smoking cessation program that focuses on informing Russian-speaking immigrants about the impact of tobacco. Erwin said there is a large Russian community in San Francisco that has carried with it old messages from Russia, where smoking is heavily promoted.

“In the former Soviet Union, they don’t get any messages about the health effects of tobacco and a lot of the tobacco companies are moving overseas to Asia, to Eastern Europe, to these new markets where there aren’t any restrictions and there is potential for a lot of tobacco sales,” said Erwin. “So we did a lot of work around awareness. We developed posters and brochures and workshops on secondhand smoke and cessation. Those have all been really successful.”

The Sunset program is now in its third cycle of funding. Erwin said keeping her programs funded is the most challenging part of her job.

Patricia Erwin

BUSINESS

Current job: Program manager, Newcomers Health Program, San Francisco Department of Public Health

Last job: Project director, Breast Cancer Early Detection Partnership, North Coast-St. JosephHospital, Petaluma

Employer: San Francisco Department of Public Health, City and County of San Francisco

Number of e-mails a day: 40-70

Number of voice-mails a day: 5-10

Essential Web site: http://www.sfdph.org and http://www.google.com

Best perk: Working with a great group of culturally diverse people to serve refugees and immigrants from all over the world

Gadgets: Computer: desktop and laptop

Education/credentials: BA international studies; MPH, UC-Berkeley

Original aspiration: Show horse farm manager/owner

Career objective: Manager of a primary prevention community health program, ideally in an international or cross cultural setting

PERSONAL

Details: Born Aug. 14, 1962; hometown: York, Pa.; partner: Janie Hillyer; pets: three cats

Sports/hobbies: Bicycling, hiking, backpacking, spending time with friends

Transportation: Bicycle

Favorite restaurant: Ti Couz

Favorite clothier: North Face

Vacation spot: Anywhere in another country or culture, especially Latin America

Carol Bellamy

Quote: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reading: “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham

Motivation: Making a positive difference in the lives of others

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