The Keck School of Medicine appointed professor Ricky Bluthenthal on Jan. 1 as the associate dean of the Office of Social Justice, which was recently launched by Keck Dean Laura Mosqueda.
Mosqueda said the Office of Social Justice will explore issues like environmental health concerns, racial disparities in the health care system and gun violence.
“We’re very interested in the nexus of medicine, health care … and social justice,” Mosqueda said. “USC is in … a premiere position to be looking at issues like equity in terms of access to health care … Our initiative relates to finding an organized way for us to approach these issues as a Keck community.”
According to the USC Street Medicine website, Keck currently runs a program that provides free care, counseling and medication for homeless individuals in more than 60 U.S. cities. The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority reported that as of last year, 31,285 individuals in the city of Los Angeles are experiencing homelessness.
Mosqueda said that by establishing the Office of Social Justice, Keck officials can execute the Street Medicine program and other similar initiatives with more organization and efficiency. She said Bluthenthal’s role is centered on constructing the proper framework for the school’s social justice initiatives by involving the input of the Keck community.
The first step in that process will consist of a listening tour, during which Bluthenthal will speak with Keck faculty, staff and students and gather information on what they expect from the new office. The Office, Mosqueda said, is currently in the process of drafting its mission statement.
“I’ll need to meet with student groups and figure out what the issues are from their perspective,” Bluthenthal said. “… I look forward to being able to report very specific changes that we’re able to implement moving forward.”
Bluthenthal said he will also work to identify and support Keck initiatives that are already making progress in the field of social justice.
Mosqueda said she chose Bluthenthal for the position because of his history working with at-risk communities, as well as his reputation as a mentor to students and other faculty members at Keck.
According to Keck’s website, Bluthenthal has contributed to over 125 scientific articles. Bluthenthal said his research focuses heavily on HIV and Hepatitis-C prevention for people who inject drugs. He began his research on the effectiveness of needle exchange programs in 1992 and said he plans to continue his work as the associate dean of social justice.
“He truly has a track record of being engaged in the community and working toward helping some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Mosqueda said. “He’s just a wonderful human being. [He] has a true passion for [social justice] … He’s a proven leader.”
Mosqueda was appointed interim dean of Keck in October 2017 before officially becoming dean last May. After conducting her own listening tour in 2017, she said she saw a need to explore social justice as a common thread throughout the school’s community. As a result, Mosqueda, with her experiences researching elder abuse and the criminal justice system, decided to launch the new office.
“I’ve seen what happens when people do and don’t have access to health care and some of the effects our policies have on the most vulnerable members of our society,” Mosqueda said.
While Mosqueda said she is not aware of any other universities who have hired deans of social justice, Bluthenthal said a few other medical schools, like UC San Francisco, have incorporated a social justice component into their education programs.
“The basic idea is to achieve equitable access to the very best healthcare for people throughout society,” Bluthenthal said. “The social justice lens directs us to consider not only what goes on in a medical visit … but to consider the other 60 percent of our lives … and to try and mobilize elements of the medical school to address that additional 60 percent of the healthcare equation.”