There was an outpouring of support this week for the Black woman serving as the County’s top health expert.
Local residents called into Wednesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting praising Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye for her “excellent” leadership during the coronavirus pandemic and being unafraid to fight for the needs of the community.
County executives have said that Dr. Kasirye failed to put in a request that would have given her team $45 million in federal CARES Act money, a claim she denies. Supporters said County officials are simply trying to deflect attention away from themselves after giving most of its federal COVID-19 relief money to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
One caller said Dr. Kasirye and an “understaffed, underfunded and overworked health department shouldn’t be blamed for (County Executive) Nav Gill’s mismanagement and the Board’s lack of leadership.”
While Dr. Kasirye has been busy the last six months leading a multi-faceted health response to the pandemic, meetings like the one on Wednesday have given the public a glimpse into her efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In recent years Dr. Kasirye has led the County’s efforts to address a national opioid crisis and an ebola scare in 2014. She was also at the forefront of opening neighborhood sites that gave communities of color more access to testing.
Dr. Kasirye said she remained optimistic that her team would receive approval to their most recent request for $45 million, which they did. She was choosing to focus on the work that remains ahead, not the negative aspects of bureaucracy or County politics. Issues like how they’ll relieve beleaguered staffers working the pandemic, meeting the rising demand for testing and being prepared for when a vaccine becomes available are more pressing, she said.
“We’re in this for a much longer period of time than we needed the (original) assistance, so that’s the message that I wanted to bring to the Board,” Dr. Kasirye said.
After the August 11 meeting, area activist Kula Koenig took to social media, issuing support as president of the Sacramento chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA).
“We stand with Dr. Kasirye,” Ms. Koenig wrote. “Thank you for your courage today to tell the truth to the Board of Supervisors when so many were speaking lies to the detriment of our health. Should they come for you, please know we have your back.”
Terry Clauser was among those calling into Wednesday’s meeting.
“I was very impressed with Dr. K and all the proactive work that she has done with the community agencies she talked about today,” Ms. Clauser said.
Local activist Dr. Flojaune Cofer said she wouldn’t tolerate attempts to intimidate Dr. Kasirye or use her as a scapegoat.
“What I will not allow to go unchallenged is your attempt to blame the only person who was honest on the record last week,” shared Dr. Cofer, who is the senior director of policy for Public Health Advocates.
Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation also said it was important to lift up Dr. Kasirye in this moment.
“We at The Center support the public health approach laid out by Dr. Kasirye and Dr. Beilenson. We want to acknowledge her leadership in particular and her courage under what is sure to have been challenging circumstances,” Hewitt said.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer