In Memoriam: Joseph Hafey, founder of the Public Health Institute

A memorial service for Joe will be held:

Saturday, August 26th at 11:00am
Location: Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church
49 Knox Drive, Lafayette, CA 94549

All are welcome to attend.


Joseph Hafey, the founder and architect of the Public Health Institute, passed on July 4, 2023.

Joe was a health planner, a connection builder and a leader in the field of public health.

When comprehensive health planning laws were enacted in the late 60s through 70s, and health system agencies were established, Joe served as the executive director of the Contra Costa Sub-Area Council of the Bay Area Health Systems Agency (HSA). These groups formed the initial community engagement in planning for the allocation of healthcare resources, including hospital beds, to have more equitable distribution of resources based on need. Joe was a key leader who established relationships with everyone in the field. When that legislation was rescinded and HSAs were diminished and then shuttered, he helped design and grow new methods of community health planning. He served as the executive director for the Western Center for Health Planning (later renamed the Center for Health Planning), where he led technical assistance to State and Regional health planning agencies.

Joe became the executive director of what was then called the California Public Health Foundation (CPHF) in 1975. He established a close working relationship with the California Department of Public Health and set up many program relationships that continue to exist today. He was instrumental in creating the first Healthy Cities program, the Center for Health Law and Policy, the Community Benefits program, the Regional Asthma Management program and the National Public Health Leadership program.

He was a true visionary and built leadership and other programs in recognition for the need for more strong leadership in public health. Joe imagined an organization that could make public health stronger, faster, more efficient and more effective at reaching those who need it most. In 1997, he led the restructuring of CPHF and the establishment of the Public Health Institute. Under Joe’s direction as President and CEO, PHI grew into an organization with over $80 million in annual revenue, 600 employees, and 20 centers with over 250 distinct projects by the time he left in 2008, and is still growing today. Communities around the world have benefited from the work he has done to make that vision a reality.

“Joe built a powerful network of public health leaders from across every sector, including government, philanthropy and our community of principal investigators, researchers and program directors here at PHI,” said PHI CEO and President Mary Pittman. “When I was selected to succeed him, I knew there was a strong base behind me to help launch the next phase of PHI. His legacy, connections and commitment will always be a part of our DNA.”

Joe held a Master of Public Administration degree from UCLA and has served as a lecturer at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Harvard University. He was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the National Network of Leadership Programs.

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