Sara Grunstein is a mental health team leader at Children’s Hospital Oakland.
What inspired you to pursue a career in behavioral health?
After almost 40 years providing community-based clinical social work services, including 22 at Children’s Hospital Oakland, I am preparing to retire. I was born and raised in Mexico, the grandchild of Jewish immigrants who fled their countries of birth because of antisemitism and violence. My paternal grandparents were socialists and labor organizers in Poland and they inculcated in me, at a very young age, their values around social justice. In Mexico City, my grandmother and some of her fellow immigrants created preschools to serve the residents of disenfranchised neighborhoods.
From an early age, I knew I wanted to work with children but didn’t want to be a teacher. So when I applied for my BA, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, one of my high school mentors mentioned that she saw me as a social worker (I had never met a social worker in my life!). I soon fell in love with working in infant mental health. My first position was as a trainee in a well-baby clinic in Jerusalem, and I realized that my life mission was to help parents connect with their babies. I have lived in the United States for almost 37 years and have focused my work on bringing healing and psychotherapy to communities that have suffered from historical and intergenerational trauma. For me, infant mental health is social justice work, and melds my passions for psychotherapy and social justice, as we work to break cycles of trauma and abuse. This work has transformed me in so many ways. As the families of Oakland have opened their doors and hearts to me, I have had the honor to support and learn from them.
How has being in NUHW helped you in your profession?
I carry the legacy of a pro-union stance. My paternal grandfather was a labor organizer of textile workers in Poland, where he was born, and my grandmother worked as a seamstress in the Lower East Side of New York City, before she emigrated to Mexico. As a result, I was very open to exploring the potential for joining with the NUHW when my co-workers began efforts to affiliate. We organized at a crucial time for our program, when we were threatened with closure. The fact that we are still providing services to the communities of Alameda County today is in no small part a result of our decision to become part of NUHW. I feel proud to be part of a union that is committed to providing access and excellent patient care to the communities we serve, while at the same time supporting work conditions that promote sustainability in this extremely stressful work.