Sarah Lyman, a health care executive and new Carmel Valley resident, has taken over as executive director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation, which helps provide a range of health care- and wellness-related initiatives for under-served residents of San Diego and Imperial counties.
Lyman, along with her husband and their two sons, recently moved from Washington state, where she spent nine years working at Empire Health Foundation, a similar organization based in Spokane, including the last two years as its executive vice president. Lyman, who has an M.B.A. from Eastern Washington University, has served on a variety of boards and has earned several honors, including being selected in 2014 as one of Terrance Keenan Institute’s Emerging Leaders in Health Philanthropy through Grant Makers in Health.
Joe Ramsdell, a board trustee for Alliance, said in a statement that Lyman’s “history as a catalyst coupled with her development of networks, including leveraging resources to make a positive impact, makes her an excellent fit for the role.”
At Alliance, she’ll oversee five programs the organization operates, which include providing funding to local organizations that help meet the health care needs of the residents they work with. This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Q: How have you been approaching your first months on the job in terms of learning about the areas you’ll be serving and the work Alliance is in the middle of?
A: I’ve been in learning and listening mode. I’m new to San Diego, new to this region, and I’m really trying to get a good sense of the ecosystem of stakeholders here. This is a bigger city than where I came from, so there are a lot more players in this space, and so I’m really trying to absorb as much as I can about this ecosystem, and learn more about the existing partnerships that Alliance Healthcare Foundation has established with a variety of initiatives that are midstream and have a long history. I am trying to both understand how we got to where we are today, and then my goal is to figure out how I can be most supportive to achieving the ultimate goals we set out to achieve together. I’ve been focusing a lot of my time on getting up to speed on the body of work that already exists, and also thinking about what might the future look like for Alliance to continue to embark on their effort to be bold and innovative and create systemic change that benefits our most vulnerable populations.
Q: How do you compare and contrast the people you served in Washington to the residents you will now be serving in San Diego and Imperial counties?
A: The general target population is similar to what I focused on in Washington, but of course the demographics are very different here. We had an international border, but not quite the same in terms of immigration and some of the humanitarian crises that presents. Spokane was 11% all minorities combined, and so within that context, we built a team and a board that was more than 50% diverse, but our general population was much less diverse than San Diego. I’m really excited about that here and eager to understand the various communities within San Diego that we work with. And then, of course, the size is different. Spokane is the second largest city in Washington state, but it’s still a relatively small urban city, so there were not a lot of other large organizations playing in the same space we were in. There were a lot of nonprofit organizations doing specific service work, but in terms of that systemic, strategic, full-community view, systems-change type work, we were one of the only organizations acting in that space. That’s not the case in San Diego, which is awesome, that’s a wonderful opportunity.
Q: Who exactly are the people Alliance serves?
A: We serve San Diego and Imperial counties, and we are focused on the 1.3 million most vulnerable residents in those two counties. So low-income folks who have socioeconomic challenges, who are often disproportionately burdened by some of the negative health outcomes we’re trying to solve. If you don’t have a stable job, if you don’t live in a safe community, if it’s difficult to put food on the table, if your kids don’t have access to quality education, obviously all those social determinants of health are major influences to your health outcomes. We take a really broad view of health. Our name is Alliance Healthcare Foundation, but health care is only one specific focus for us, because we know that social determinants of health actually make up 60% of what makes you healthy.
Q: How do the politics of health care factor into Alliance’s work, especially as 2020 presidential candidates discuss potential changes to the nation’s health care system?
A: It has a major impact. One of the key issues that we care about is access to quality health care and access to affordable health care. They’re very poignant conversations taking place at the state and the national level. As a private foundation we sit in a unique space. We’re prohibited from lobbying, and so we don’t engage in endorsing candidates or anything like that, and yet we do have to be very aware of, and proactive about, understanding the implications of policy and advocating as appropriate to ensure that the most vulnerable populations aren’t left behind and that there are not disproportionate impacts on those people from the policies being made, and so when it comes to implementing those policies and finding better solutions that actually create that access or improve quality of care or reduce costs, that’s our core focus. One of the biggest themes Alliance has been trying to solve the last several years is finding innovative solutions that move sick care dollars into preventative wellness in a sustainable business model, so that’s a theme you’ll see us focus on consistently.
Q: On a personal level, how has the transition to San Diego been for you and your family?
A: Hard to complain about a beautiful place like San Diego. We’ve been loving the beach, My kids. they’re 2 and 4, so their favorite activity is bringing little toy cars to the beach and building racetracks, and then we bring a backpack full of sand home, it’s lovely. But it’s good, people have been really friendly. There’s a nice one-way direct flight from Spokane, so my mom’s visited twice already and we’ve only been here two months. It’s been a smooth transition overall.
For more information, visit AllianceHF.org