Omar Passons Makes Transition From Supervisor Candidate To Director Of County Department
This is KPBS midday edition. I'm wearing cabin up. He ran a campaign to change how San Diego County addresses issues like homelessness and mental health. Now Omar passion's job is to make the current county policies work. After an unsuccessful campaign for county supervisor Pasos has taken a job as Director of Integrative services in San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency. He'll be in charge of making sure the county's health housing and social services operate together to help people in need. And joining me by Skype is Omar passages. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. From challenging the way the county is run to working for the county how did you make that transition. Well I tell you every night I had a chance to get to know some of the county leadership before the campaign and during and I found them to be sort of compassionate driven people. And after the campaign was over and the election unfortunately didn't quite go as I had intended but I'm grateful for those 23000 people who voted for me. I ended up in a conversation with the director the agency director Nick match. And it just really felt like the right opportunity the right combination of my sort of land use and public health backgrounds to come in and really help. Now what exactly is integrative services. I think the best way to think about integrated services is to have it in your mind's eye all of the things that the county does across the enterprise right. It provides nutrition services for some folks. It provides supports for seniors in child care and probation related services. And the money that comes for all those things are almost like stovepipes right. The money comes from the Department of Justice for probation and it comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for substance abuse prevention. But there isn't a specific role that is designed to go not up and down vertically but horizontally and integrate all of those elements that support San Diego's integrated services exist to make sure that that live well vision healthy safe and thriving for every San Diego is really possible. So what does that mean. You kind of do on a day to day basis. Well it is a mixture. So I feel very strongly about making sure that every employee is able to live their best life at work and that's something that I think the general public would be surprised maybe to know that that's supported across the county enterprise. And so day to day there's a management function. But then to make sure that employees are set up for success and have real opportunities to grow. And then on the substantive side I just finished a meeting with the Head of Planning and Development Services literally right before this call guy named Mark Wardlaw and we were talking about the ways as the unincorporated area starts to update community plans that they are are working from a live well reference frame so that for example if you're a senior in the unincorporated area that we're thinking about your mobility options how do you go for a walk. How do you get where you need to be. We're thinking about how parents can get from their house to childcare to their job and maybe pulling those things closer together so that it's easier to do. Those are part of the social determinants of health. And so even though Planning and Development Services doesn't say health in the title it's part of integrating that work. Now you mentioned your last job was as a land use attorney but you've had a lot of irons in the fire when it comes to public service. How do you think your work has prepared you for this new role. I think that large entities and there are 17000 county employees in the county has been around for a very long time. Come with a lot of challenges let's say to figure out how to work together how to set people up for success how to collaborate with effective communication and whether it is as the president of my community group in North Park or on regional bodies like the work partnership or serving clients as a as a land use or construction attorney. Those things all require a certain level of facility at direct communication at understanding what other people's needs are at not being afraid to say I don't know or I'm not really sure if we did this right. But we'll do it better next time. That level of past experience is really I think setting me up to do well here. Well it's interesting because my next question is about past experience. The biggest h h s controversy the county has faced over the past years is whether it handled the hepatitis A outbreak correctly for instance there were over 100 confirmed cases and people had already died before a vaccination program was started. You think the county has learned from that incident. You know I think that there is an audit report that maybe either just came out or is in process. There's been a lot of discussion about ways that the various entities involved the county the various city jurisdictions can collaborate more smoothly or just reinforce some of the existing practices. I think that my role that this division is an example of the county's commitment to integrating our ability to move on on key issues. There's some of the challenges that exist around the sort of migrant health issues coming up out of that what's going on in our international border. And I can tell you that I have seen county workers bend over backwards rightly so because it's the job that we sign him to do to collaborate with city partners to really support the efforts to make sure that places are properly screened from a health perspective and that sort of thing. So I think I think what you're seeing is an evolution of even more collaboration and cooperation. And I've made it a point to bring a lot of the relationships that I have I had personally before joining the county to bear on this work so that I can call you know colleagues at the City of San Diego or other jurisdictions and have those sort of like smooth conversations. So I think it's a it's always a process and be willing to sort of learn and grow from from what has happened. But to me it appears that we've that as a county enterprise there is a premium on on that communication. Omar as a candidate you talked about how agencies should work more toward prevention to help young people avoid issues like homelessness addiction and intervene early with mental health issues. And I'm wondering is that the direction you'd like to see the county's Health and Human Services Agency take. So my job is to implement the board's policies and that I do feel very strongly that support for children is critical to that especially early. But here's one of the things that you don't necessarily see as a candidate that I now see as an as an employee. I had a meeting this morning with the heads of our first by San Diego and Aging and Adult Services and that's two ends of the spectrum. There are a dozen people leading efforts around intergenerational work that's babies parents grandparents right now in the county. So what I know my role is is to say this is great work that's happening. How do we scale how do we deepen how do we make it even more robust and to reach more of the people who need it. And so that's the way I think that that integrated services can support our march towards real equity and opportunity for every San Diego in San Diego's homeless population is is actually down slightly from years past. But the looming issue countywide is how to find housing for people to get them off the streets permanently. And as Director of Integrative services is that one of your jobs to find those those places for people to live permanently. I think it is yes. And so that means a lot. And I think I and my team and and frankly all of the agents that Health and Human Services agency takes very seriously this opportunity to get more housing under way. You know the Mental Health Services Act is going to send some money down to the county of San Diego to be able to do some more work there. Props one and two passed which will create some more opportunities for getting more housing. What I think that we need to do and what I personally will be working really hard to do is to get out in front into communities early really early maybe even before there's a project right to have the types of honest conversations that say Not hey we're not you're not we're not going to build any affordable housing there. Look we do need to. That's just the plain truth. But let's have early conversations in all of our San Diego communities so that neighbors can participate and can understand who is it that that might be coming because we have a shared crisis that's going to require all of us to engage in shared solutions. And so I bring that community engagement lens to bear early and often. Would you consider running for elected office again in the future. You know I love my job and there's no there I believe in her five weeks and I wake up every day super excited to go to work. And so my days are long and they're great long. They will tell you don't ever say never. I would say this I cannot imagine. No absolutely not. In the next five to 10 years I just can't imagine liking to do that anything in politics more than what I had the opportunity to do right now maybe in retirement although I think my wife might have some say about that. But no I I love what I'm doing. It is genuinely great work and I'm excited about I've been speaking with Omar Parsons the county's new Director of Integrative services for San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency. OMAR Thank you very much for your time. Laurie thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. And you're listening to KPBS midday edition.
Omar Passons ran a campaign to change how San Diego County addresses issues like homelessness and mental health — now, his job is to make the current county policies work.
Following a primary loss for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Passons took a job as director of integrative services in San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency. In this role, he’s in charge of making sure the county’s health, housing and social services operate together to help people in need. Passons began his new role with the county on Nov. 9.
Passons joins Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss how he made the transition from candidate to county director.