The Desert Healthcare District and Foundation Board of Directors has committed $190,000  toward protecting the health of eastern Coachella Valley residents by facilitating an air quality emergency communication plan. The plan is related to the prevention, mitigation and response to airborne environmental hazards — in direct response to recent hazardous fires.

The seven-member Board of Directors unanimously approved  a service agreement with CONCUR Inc., an environmental conflict resolution firm from Berkeley, California. CONCUR proposes to create an Eastern Coachella Valley Air Quality Emergency Communication Plan, which would provide a road map for all community stakeholders to follow during an environmental emergency.

The proposal was prompted by mulch fires that continuously filled the sky with dark smoke during several weeks last fall in the Thermal area, creating breathing challenges and pulmonary health concerns for local residents, including many children while at school and at home. The health threat was so serious that eastern valley teachers, other educators and parents crowded a Board meeting to implore the District to help.

District CEO Dr. Conrado Bárzaga and staff quickly responded, in partnership with Tenet Health and UCR School of Medicine residents, by providing free masks and medical care for Thermal residents of all ages at Las Palmitas Elementary School and Desert Mirage High School. The District’s response was effective and appreciated, but also highlighted a need for the District’s help elsewhere: support and funding to establish a protocol for the school and various agencies to work together in addressing future emergencies.

Maria Gandera, Ed.D., Coachella Valley Unified School District superintendent,  told Board Directors at the meeting that during the 2019 fires various agencies shared the goal of creating a safe environment for Thermal residents but their efforts were somewhat hindered by working in silos.

The service agreement with CONCUR is not to exceed $191,573 and will be paid with money from the Desert Healthcare Foundation’s Robert N. Avery Family Trust. The trust allocated $1 million to the Foundation in February 1982 with the stipulation “its use be generally restricted to pulmonary research and rehabilitation and/or for purchase and/or construction of facilities used for those purposes,” as documented by the Superior Court of California, Monterey County.

“We are honored by the trust and support received from our community members in the eastern Coachella Valley,” said Dr. Bárzaga. “Our efforts will honor the will and the vision of Mr. Avery. This work will result in better respiratory health for children and families affected by recurrent fires.”

The Desert Healthcare District is a local government agency formed in 1948. Its mission is to achieve optimal health at all stages of life for all District residents. The District includes more than 400,000 residents and encompasses the entire Coachella Valley. The District and Desert Healthcare Foundation, together, are one of the largest funders in the valley. These funds are used to assist residents — especially the underserved — in accessing vitally needed resources, such as primary and behavioral healthcare, housing, food and transportation resources.

Image Sources

  • Air Quality: Shutterstock