I’ll never forget how I felt when I first visited San Francisco General Hospital more than 30 years ago. I was an East Coast medical student on a visiting rotation, and the effect on me was immediate: I was inspired and knew I would be happy working there. When I learned the next year that I would be doing my medical residency there, I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot. The hospital represented not only the best of science, but the best of public service. Since opening in 1850 to cope with a Gold Rush cholera outbreak, the hospital has helped train generations of doctors caring for immigrants, refugees, and newcomers of every stripe speaking many languages.
San Francisco’s residents, elected officials, and business leaders have long recognized the hospital’s vital role in improving public health, providing broad access to coverage and care, and serving as the city’s only Level 1 trauma center. They have demonstrated that understanding by providing tremendous financial, philanthropic, and political support.
The new building was financed by an $887.4-million bond approved by San Francisco voters in 2008 with astonishing support (84% voted to approve). Few votes are that much of a landslide! Organized opposition was nonexistent, and many private donors and organizations stepped up to provide more than $150 million in additional funds to outfit the hospital with cutting-edge equipment and patient-friendly furnishings that enhance care. The largest private donors were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, who practices at “The General.” The couple contributed $75 million.
Throughout my training, into the ’90s when I served as director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health and oversaw the hospital, and right through today as CHCF collaborates with colleagues and administrators there, my enthusiasm for The General has never waned. I have always been deeply moved by the hospital staff’s esprit de corps. Physicians, nurses, residents, researchers, public health experts, and students are everywhere on the bustling campus, helping the community and advancing science.
Dr. Sandra R. Hernández is president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation. Prior to joining CHCF, Sandra was CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, which she led for 16 years. She previously served as director of public health for the City and County of San Francisco. She also co-chaired San Francisco’s Universal Healthcare Council, which designed Healthy San Francisco, an innovative health access program for the uninsured.
Sandra is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. She practiced at San Francisco General Hospital in the AIDS clinic from 1984 to 2016. She was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the Covered California board of directors in February 2018. She currently serves on the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing Advisory Council at UC Davis and the UC Regents Committee on Health Services. Sandra served on the External Advisory Committee at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences in 2016. Sandra is a graduate of Yale University, the Tufts School of Medicine, and the certificate program for senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.