San Jose

Health Emphasized as Priority in ‘State of the County' Address

Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian delivered the annual "State of the County" address Tuesday, focusing on health issues as a critical priority for county residents.

He discussed the county's victories and failings over the last year, including a high rate of insured residents and an increasingly high population of homeless individuals.

"I don't care who you are where you came from or how much money you have in your pocket," Simitian said, to loud applause. "Every man, woman and child in this county should get the healthcare they need, it is the right thing to do and it is the smart thing to do."

The State of the County Address was attended by dozens of elected officials, including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, city councilmembers and trustees from community colleges.

While healthcare has become a major political issue both statewide and nationally, Simitian said the county cannot wait for this debate to play out before it begins attending to its residents.

He touted the county's recent purchase of O'Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, despite blocks from the state attorney general, and said 93.5 percent of county residents are covered by public or private insurance.

Still, he said, "It's not good enough, we have to keep pushing."

Among the county's upcoming projects are a partnership with Planned Parenthood in Mountain View, culturally competent health centers that understand the needs of LGBTQ and other diverse populations and attentive services for undocumented immigrants who have been unenrolling from health services for fear of tracking and deportation.

"We have remained committed to ensuring that any resident facing deportation proceedings in this county has access to legal representation," he added.

Simitian also set a goal to open an inpatient mental health facility for youth by 2023. The project has been stalled for years, but was approved by supervisors in October 2018.

"Mental healthcare is healthcare, and too often the system seems to forget that," Simitian said. "For too long, stigma has prevented behavioral health from getting the attention it deserves."

He emphasized homelessness as a health crisis, and said, "At the risk of stating the obvious, homelessness is unhealthy."

He said the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Health will continue to tackle the problem, after 157 homeless individuals - the highest number ever recorded - died in the county last year.

Simitian closed his speech with a call to make prescription medications free, as the county has done through its drug donation program. He also said distracted driving, which causes hundreds of deaths annually, should be treated as a health crisis.

"Action is the antidote to despair," Simitian said, quoting county native, singer and activist Joan Baez. "The state of our county is healthy and getting healthier every day, because this county - our county - is committed to doing the good and mportant work that will help make it so."

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