Change in leadership at DPH triggers brain (and heart) drain

Environmental Health Director Dr. Rajiv Bhatia was placed on leave by new SFDPH head Barbara Garcia.
Luke Thomas

The San Francisco Department of Public Health has seen an exodus of top officials over the 18 months since Barbara Garcia took the reins from longtime chief Mitch Katz, the most recent being Environmental Health Director Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, who was placed on administrative leave last month pending an investigation into unspecified concerns.

Bhatia has been a hero to many progressive San Franciscans and public health professionals for his innovative work supporting expanded worker protections, regulation of cannabis dispensaries and restaurants, environmental justice initiatives, and other work that has landed him in the pages of the Guardian many, many times.

"The poorest Americans are about two times as likely to die. People in low-wage jobs have less access to health care ... food, shelter, clothing, and transit," Bhatia testified during the 2002 Board of Supervisors hearing that led to the creation of a city minimum wage.

Neither Bhatia nor the department would comment on his leave, although sources tell us that he has not been informed of the charges against him (which an item in the Chronicle last month suggested was a possible conflict of interest issue relating to his regulation of restaurants) and that Garcia has clashed with many of top officials in the department since taking over.

Among those who have left the department, said one knowledgeable source, are Dr. Susan Fernyak, Director of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control; Dr. Masae Kawamura, Director of TB Control; Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of HIV Prevention; Elizabeth Jacobi, Director of Human Resources; Tangerine Brigham, Director of Healthy San Francisco; Mark Trotz, Director of Housing and Urban Health; and Dr. Erica Pan, Director of Emergency Preparedness.

“SFDPH has a national and worldwide reputation for innovative solutions to traditional public health problems. As a citizen of this city, I’m concerned that the current leadership is fostering an environment that is driving out and stifling that innovation to the detriment of all of us. A number of staff people have told me they have been instructed not to stretch themselves to innovate, to do only what their job description says and no more,” said the source, who works for nonprofit that deals with the department.

Asked to comment on the exodus and her role in it, Garcia issued the following statement in response to questions from the Guardian: "Three staff that reported to me directly were recruited and provided promotions in the Los Angeles Department of Health Services.   I'm very proud of these staff  who are now involved with Health Care Reform efforts for the Los Angeles area.  Several other staff that reported to our Public Health Division left for positions that were closer to home and the majority of these departures were promotions. All staff left  in good standing with the San Francisco Department of Public Health."

Meanwhile, 93 “members of the public health, social and environmental justice, foundation and education communities” wrote a signed letter to Mayor Ed Lee on July 10 on behalf of Dr. Bhatia, highlighting his work and appealing for a just resolution to the situation.

“Many across the nation have been grappling with how to improve the social and environmental conditions that are the cause of poor health and health inequities. Under Dr. Bhatia’s leadership, the San Francisco Department of Public Health Environmental Health Section has found practical ways -- using research, policy, regulation, and cross-sector collaboration -- to produce measurable improvements to environmental and social conditions throughout San Francisco’s diverse communities,” they wrote.

While writing that they “have no knowledge or commentary on the details of the leave or investigations, they went on to note the initiative that Bhatia has shown in going beyond his prescribed duties to work with various San Francisco constituencies to support equitable solutions to this city’s problems: “He takes his responsibilities as a public servant seriously, working well beyond required hours, and he is committed to improving the life-chances of socially, economically, and politically marginalized communities.”


Rajiv Bhatia is one of the better high level city officials.

He'd occasionally carried water against the facts but not as often as most at his level.

As for the poachings from LA, that's probably Mitch Katz former DPH director now LADPH director building his team.

DPH is a mess, is unauditable and is an integral component of the nonprofit corruption game.

Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

Seems to me we could largely outsource this.

Posted by anon on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

His discernible lack of respect for staff is discouraging for those doing the traditional work of public health. It now appears that Dr, Bhatia's bedside manner has upset others, too. Take two aspirin and call me when it's over.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

Bhatia is a catastrophe on 2 legs. He has completely alienated his managers and marginalized many of the most talented regulatory and inspection staff in his agency. He had become increasingly arrogant, condescending, remote and vindictive. His secretive budget manipulations have contributed to an every growing mistrust. As a consequence there has been nearly a virtual breakdown in staff morale in EHS. In summary, his demeanor in EHS has produced a level of divisiveness bordering upon functionality.

Posted by Stanislav on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 9:08 am

Sounds like you are a bitter, old staffer at DPH. You know, the kind that will take the 15 min breaks even when there is a disaster in the city, or who will actually not do beyond what is listed in his/her general job description.
Rajiv is an innovator! So what if he doesn't have bed manners? He's not attending, he's ensuring the city is better for all- including the working class.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2013 @ 2:14 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... well, surprise, surprise,surprise. I have been writing about how DPH broke MEDICAL LAW against me in 2001 and in 2003 had my case (C02-3485PJH)thrown out of FEDERAL court with FRAUD and TESTILYING only to sign a confession/settlement agreement with the OFFICE of INSPECTOR GENERAL admitting fault and guilt in 2007 and leaving its INNOCENT VINDICATED VICTIM for DEAD. NO ONE from DPH, the city attorney nor the COURTS have explained how someone who HAD never been arrested now has an arrest record sitting next to a signed confession for a CRIME they (DPH) admitted and committed. It is NOW 2013 and the process has started again. On 8/15/2012 I went seeking services and was ILLEGALLY denied and the police and sheriff were there and allowed it since THEY DO NOT ARREST nor ENFORCE MEDICAL LAW
and then watch DPH break the LAW again on 12/19/12 and then AGAIN on 3/15/13 and THEN again to add INJURY to INSULT on 5/1/13 I was assaulyed by the Sheriff's deputy

Now for the article to state "“SFDPH has a national and worldwide reputation for innovative solutions to traditional public health problems." I STATE BULLSHIT !!!
Where? When? I have a signed confession and am still having the LAW broken. Oh and if you want to see where I have been to fix and correct and HOLD ACCOUNTABLE go to youtube ... type in Jason Garza and see what I have gotten from the Sheriff, Chief of Police, Office of Citizen's Complaints, Human Rights Commission, Mayor's Office on Disabilities ??? (ha,ha,ha), the Police Commission, City Attorney and naturally DPH's lawbreaking activity.

So the Sheriff and SFPD DO NOT arrest nor enforce MEDICAL LAW VIOLATIONS ... what is to stop DPH ... look at the videos. And when I say that it is RIGGED remember I told the truth in my prior case (C02-3485PJH) and for YEARS fought ... what did the TRUTH matter to DPH and the city attorney UNTIL it got to the OFFICE of INSPECTOR GENERAL ... maybe NOW you know why it continues with such IMPUNITY.

DPH is a FRAUD, the ENFORCEMENT of MEDICAL LAW is a FARCE and the INHUMANITY and GAMES continue ...

I say this since NO ONE cares ... type my name into google and see and read how many articles I have commented on ... YEARS worth and it continues since there is NO ACCOUNTABILITY just ILLUSION. "TO DO NO HARM" is so fake since they continue to HARM as my case NAILS. Oh and the CRIMINAL FRAUD that was used on 8/15/12 (see youtube video) is closely approaching a YEAR ... they are applying "RISK MANAGEMENT" tactics and NOT health care ;.. look at the videos ..... there are over 190.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 6:57 am

you just have to walk by 16th (nearth 7th) and look at all the dried up human feces from the RV's camped there to see how effective the sf DPH is.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 10:21 am

With all due respect to Dr Bhatia, he is greatly lacking in management and leadership skills and does not have the essential background to be able to run a large, regulatory government bureaucracy. The notion that any physician with a degree in internal medicine is well equipped to run a government agency has been largely discredited by the failure of Dr. Bhatia to both martial and effectively utilize the talents of his staff. On the contrary, the morale of this agency has never been lower, nor communication between management and Dr. Bhatia been so utterly dysfunctional. He has been highly secretive in his budget "shell games" and his largely run this agency by remote and exclusive fiat. There are good reasons why hospital administrators are not often selected from a pool of physicians.

Were Dr. Bhatia to return to DPH, Director Garcia would be well advised to reassign Dr. Bhatia to Disease Control at 101 Grove Street, and to assign a professional with both Industrial Hygiene and REHS credentials, along with a successful management background, to the Directorship of EHS. Those two accreditation largely encompass the regulatory charge and activities of EHS. Epidemiology staff should also be reassigned to 101 Grove's Disease Control Program, which is its natural and logical venue.

Posted by Margo Richover on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 9:48 am

The reporter would do well to consider the sources of the information used in this piece. Rajiv is far from a hero in most people's eyes (other than the 93 that signed the letter).

The folks that left got better offers. Hardly an exodus. Interesting that the article characterizes 6 or 7 people leaving an agency that employs 8,000 people makes me wonder if the reporter writing it should step away from the thesaurus.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

what's happening with Dr. Bhattia at DPH and Juliet Ellis at the SFPUC. Dr. Bhattia, accused of an unspecified conflict of interest, is put on indefinite administrative leave. Ms. Ellis, is also accused of a serious conflict of interest - except this one involves directing a several hundred thousand dollar no-bid contract to the non-profit organization of which she is a prominent (paid?) board member.

One accusation is imprecise to the point where the accused doesn't even know what he's being charged with. The other is documented and plain as day.

Why the disparate treatment?

Posted by guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

what's happening with Dr. Bhattia at DPH and Juliet Ellis at the SFPUC. Dr. Bhattia, accused of an unspecified conflict of interest, is put on indefinite administrative leave. Ms. Ellis, is also accused of a serious conflict of interest - except this one involves directing a several hundred thousand dollar no-bid contract to the non-profit organization of which she is a prominent (paid?) board member.

One accusation is imprecise to the point where the accused doesn't even know what he's being charged with. The other is documented and plain as day.

Why the disparate treatment?

Posted by guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

He knows.

Posted by Jan on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

He knows.

Posted by Jan on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

I had a direct work expereince with Dr. Bhattia. It was not pleasant. He is arrogant, combative, and did not seem interested in the safety of the employees that work for him . I for one, hope he is gone for good.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

Barbara Garcia, Department Head V

$253,436 Base salary
$6,486 Other Lump sum payout: vac, sick, comp or buyout
$46,559 ER Employer contribution to pension WOW!!!
$11,206 Misc Other non-cash paid costs of employment

Looks like Bill Barbara got a nice pension spike too! Good bless our 'City Family' of public employees! Working for the public sector here sure does pay well!

go to:

Posted by Troll the XIV on Jul. 19, 2013 @ 11:24 am

People speculate he was using money from inspections for his own corps of workers to do research. These are fees are paid by restaurants for inspections twice a year. Fees are specifically paid for this important services. Cut in staffing and additional duties he has his inspectors do for his research cuts the inspection time. Restaurants do not complain being inspected less.

There was a conflict of interest in his consulting for a for profit website for ranking restaurants. Unclear if any merit to it but it is enough for an administrator to look at it as she should.

Fairly sure all the people in his office got pissed off and now he must bear the wrath of his reign of dictatorship.

This article was not well researched. Hang out at fox plaza near the elevators or starbucks and you can get this information.

Colfax who is awesome was hand picked by Obama to serve the White House. 90% had better opportunities. The "brain drain" of the 10% was not necessary the best brains for public health.

Posted by Overheard in the halls on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 7:44 am

Half the comments here seem to be from EHS staff working under Dr. Rajiv. Makes me think that if they are using this forum for their concerns, there is obviously a communication problem under current management. Hope whoever runs this place, whether Dr. Rajiv or a replacement, keeps open better lines of communication-management 101.
The reporter would do better to balance his reporting instead of writing fluff pieces. It appears that Mr Jones may have simply been doing someone a favor with this piece. Comparing someone put on admin leave as part of an investigation into malfeasance to someone leaving a position for a better work assignment is apples and oranges, and this reporter is better than that. He does do a fair job of discussing this, though. Guess I just don't understand the point of the article.

Posted by Guest Alice B Toke-less on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 8:53 am

It's one thing to have staff and people who are regulated by Dr. Bhatia's department talk about personality conflicts and disagreements over management style, it's another to launch a criminal investigation as a means to get rid of him.

Dr. Bhatia and his department have been working on a numbers of "open government" projects that are Mayor's initiatives designed to give the public easier and more meaningful access to data on public health of buildings, restaurants, and neighborhoods overall.

It seems clear from the comments here and the lack of official charge against Dr. Bhatia (even after over a month of investigation), that the whistleblowers who started this investigation process are afraid of having it be easier for the public to find out which restaurants and buildings violate the SF health code. They must think that getting rid of Dr. Bhatia will stop these initiatives.

As a consumer, I applaud this open government work. For more examples of the "open government" work Dr. Bhatia is working on, see restaurant inspections on YELP at:

On a project to provide simple public access to data on housing regulations

And here is the mayor's own press release on these projects:

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 10:19 am

undermine people in the very same way that you are accusing Bhatia's opponents of doing.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 10:45 am

No-one said Bhatia isn't doing important, good work. It's just that he may also be doing some very,very bad work.

Posted by He was legend on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 9:17 am

The Chronicle said you did not see it coming. I told you several years ago, the use of hazmat inspectors for your pedestrian epidemiology project was inappropriate and refused to participate. You laughed and said, If this is malfeasance, then bring it on". You are brilliant with your use of words, both oral and written; but you do not listen well. The malfeasance wolf is now at your door. Your house is made of straw. Children know the metrics that follow.

Your communistic ideology did not work. Those below you wanted leadership and those above wanted your interest to be in areas for which they hired you. Your 9/11 comments alienated many.

SFDPH is being kind to you. They let your children finish the school year and you to finish a vacation. You have time to submit that well honed epidemiology resume. Perhaps quantity will prevail over quality. However, at the end of the day, they may ask your resignation. I am guessing that day may be in September. I advise you to resign. Go quietly and live to fight another day. Your predecessor did it successfully. Resist and your reputation will tarnish and your pension lost.

You should have gone with Mr. Bean, when he went south. I would call him now. I think your best chances are in epidemiology; maybe in academia. The loss in salary will be compensated with more personal freedom and happiness. Two of your "Epis" told me you were a good teacher. You are a medical doctor in degree only. Claiming to be an engineer is just deceit.

Being a little blind and deaf, I fear for you. But, Rajiv, I wish you well.

Jim Ambrose, PhD
Retired SFDPH Hazmat Inspector

Posted by Guest Jim Ambrose on Jul. 27, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

Bhatia is a first rate, arrogant, and patronizing shmuck who got too big for his britches. Good riddance.

Posted by Ralph on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

I hear Garcia is going to sit on him until he screams uncle and calls Mitch to offer him any job.

Posted by Doctor Nat Golden on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

Take two aspirin and don't call me in the morning.

Posted by Sammy the Elder on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 2:07 pm


Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

I know what you mean, but it is not simple to implement it, at least that is my personal opinion!

Posted by Yachtcharter Sun Odyssey 509 on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 12:36 am

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