Low Income San Franciscans Pledge to Stay in Affordable Health Program


SAN FRANCISCO -- When Deborah McNaulty and Andre Larrimore were warned by their physicians that they were in danger of heart disease and diabetes, they took action.

McNaulty, 61, joined fitness classes and set aside the saltshaker in favor of other spices and healthier seasoning.

Larrimore, upon the recommendation of a friend, started working out daily at the Bayview Hunters Point YMCA.


“If I’m not at the YMCA, I’m walking,” said Larrimore. “Now, I eat fried foods probably twice a month.”

The two shared their stories here at the World Affairs Council Sept. 29 with local ethnic and mainstream media at a media briefing organized by New America Media. 

McNaulty and Larrimore are part of a cohort of San Francisco residents with a dedication to affordable health and fitness. They take advantage of health opportunities offered for free or at very low cost to residents living within the city’s census tracts that have some of the most pronounced health disparities correlated with race and ethnicity. These census tracts account for 80 per cent of the heart disease cases in San Francisco.

This week, the San Francisco Public Health Department launched “Healthy Hearts SF,” a federally funded campaign designed to promote free fitness opportunities for those who find that gym memberships or sports classes are outside of their budget. Healthy Hearts aims to get low-income San Francisco residents, particularly African Americans and Latinos, to take advantage of public parks and free fitness classes to broaden access to fitness for the entire community.

To inspire patients to make healthy lifestyle changes, health care workers at five participating clinics will offer free physical activity “prescriptions” to patients at risk for heart disease. By following up on the prescriptions, clinicians can hold patients accountable for getting more exercise.

“This is a pilot project funded for three years,” said Jacqueline McCright, deputy director of Community Health Equity and Promotion at the Department of Public Health. “If it’s proved to be successful, then the city would like it to be replicated throughout San Francisco.”

Fitness providers around the city in neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin, the Mission, and Bayview Hunters Point are excited to showcase free classes and build their networks of students. By dialing 211, San Francisco residents can easily access a calendar of free classes and activities taking place in their own neighborhoods. McCright points out that anyone can attend.

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SF Supervisors David Campos and Jane Kim

Neal Hatten, Director of Financial Development for the Bayview Hunters Point YMCA, considers encouraging people to socialize through classes and group walks is a key strategy for keeping them motivated.

“We do assessments and have conversations with patients about what they would like to do,” says Hatten. “It’s all about keeping them socially engaged.”

The Bayview neighborhood has demonstrated a pioneering commitment to fitness in recent years: apart from the YMCA, the area boasts fitness leaders like yoga instructor Armando Luna, who are proud to bring a program of self-care and wellness to the neighborhood.

“Who would ever have thought there would be a yoga studio on 3rd Street,” said Luna, who opened TriFusion Yoga Studio earlier this year. The sentiment was echoed by Supervisor Malia Cohen of San Francisco’s 10th District.

“I am a product of MacLaren Park, the public school, the public bus, the public library,” said Cohen, who represents San Francisco residents in Bayview Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch and Visitacion Valley. “It’s good to see your community being recognized, being sought after, in a major market like San Francisco.”

“For the Latinos, sometimes our problem is our luggage,” said Leonor Hernandez, a patient at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center. “People don’t listen to us about what we need for our community. We need to support each other and have a lot of groups and a lot of programs for everybody.”

McCright’s hope is that Healthy Hearts SF, by raising awareness about culturally competent and easily accessible exercise opportunities, will reach patients like Hernandez seeking classes that speak to her personal experience and lifestyle.

“The only challenge is gaining continuous community support,” says McCright adding: “The Health Department cannot do this alone. It’s going to take a community effort.” The goal of Healthy Hearts SF is to stop social factors such as race and income from determining a person’s health outcomes.

“The Centers for Disease Control and the Health Department believe that each person should be able to reach their full health potential,” she said.

Photo credit: Chanelle Ignant

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