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East Bay health group names gay CMO

by Seth Hemmelgarn

A gay man with years of experience fighting HIV/AIDS has become the chief medical officer for Alameda Alliance for Health, a managed care health plan that works to provide affordable services in Alameda County.

Dr. Steve O'Brien, 55, will lead patient-centered medical care and service coordination for over 268,000 underserved adults and children who live in the county, the alliance announced last week.

"I'm honored to join Alameda Alliance for Health," O'Brien said in a news release. "I am excited and I look forward to learning from and partnering with Alameda County's Medi-Cal providers in working to provide outstanding patient care and outcomes."

O'Brien's previous achievements include developing the East Bay AIDS Center into what the alliance says is the country's largest hospital-based HIV program. He's also served on advisory boards and committees, including the National Board of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, and he's received the Medical Provider of the Year Award from the Alameda County Public Health Department Office of AIDS.

In an interview, O'Brien, who lives in El Cerrito and started his new job January 2, said "a very major" challenge facing residents of Alameda County is homelessness and the effects it has on people, including "significant" emotional and physical impacts.

Public health issues include tent encampments with unsanitary conditions, and people "staying too long in hospitals," said O'Brien.

Even for people who aren't homeless themselves, "it has a huge cost to us that's mostly invisible because people don't really recognize the huge cost," he said.

The biggest challenge O'Brien sees to fighting HIV and AIDS in the county involves young people.

"The rate of HIV transmission among young men who have sex with men," particularly those who are of color, "is still very high, way too high," said O'Brien, noting that the illness is "not only treatable, but very, very preventable."

He said he wants to see the same level of "knowledge and access to HIV prevention services" available in Alameda County that people can receive in San Francisco.

O'Brien, who declined to share his salary information, said that he's HIV-negative, "but I had a partner of many years who had HIV and passed away about 15 years ago."

Praise
In a news release from the alliance, Dr. Kathleen Clanon, medical director of Alameda County's Health Care Services Agency, stated, "We are delighted to partner with Dr. O'Brien as he joins the alliance team. His clinical expertise, patient advocacy, and reputation for advancing care will accelerate our collective efforts to deliver whole person care to residents across Alameda County."

Alliance CEO Scott Coffin said, "Dr. O'Brien is well-positioned to enhance the growth and expansion of the Alliance toward a community-based, patient-centered, whole person care organization. His work in our community aligns with our overall mission and vision to create a healthier community for all, by improving the quality of life and reaching better health outcomes for our members, for many years to come."

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