Desert Healthcare District’s 2023 Market Analysis Reveals Coachella Valley’s Clinical, Social Needs, health disparities
Anecdotally, we all know that health disparities are commonplace in the Coachella Valley. Now they are staring us in the face in black and white. A new report commissioned by the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation finds profound health disparities in the Coachella Valley.
Conducted by Huron Consulting Group, the assessment of our healthcare infrastructure was completed over 12 weeks from January through March 2023. Researchers looked at the valley’s health assets and demographic trends as well as community needs.
The findings include:
- Estimated at 455,584 residents, the valley’s population is expected to grow by 2.1 percent (9,567 residents) by 2027.
- The greatest population growth is expected in Palm Springs, Indio and Thermal, driven by younger families in the eastern and western valley. For example, Mecca has the youngest ZIP Code with a median age that’s about 40 years younger than the median age in Palm Desert.
- Variations in ethnic, socioeconomic and demographic characteristics across the District affect the healthcare resources needed by each community.
- The healthcare workforce is challenged to keep up with population growth, with a current shortage of 236 physicians. The shortage is mostly evident in primary care, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
- Many valley residents are at a higher risk of avoidable emergency department visits.
- Some of the findings suggest there is overreliance on urgent care centers and emergency departments serving as proxies for primary care.
- The report made key strategic recommendations to strengthen the regional healthcare infrastructure, including developing primary care residency programs with a focus on federally qualified health centers, and increasing the number of brick-and-mortar and mobile healthcare clinics.
“The report confirms what many Coachella Valley leaders know anecdotally, which is there’s a great disparity between the haves and have-nots in our community, and it affects the overall health of the valley,” Conrado Bárzaga, CEO of the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation, said in a statement. “It is the Healthcare District’s intention to use these findings and recommendations to inform programming and funding decisions going forward.”
It also reveals the high-risk communities where residents face transportation challenges, housing insecurity, the risk of being uninsured, and other social risk factors. These high-risk areas are Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs (ZIP Codes 99240 and 99241), Indio (92201), Mecca, North Palm Springs, Thermal, and Thousands Palms. People who identify as Hispanic primarily live in high-risk communities, according to the analysis.
Social risks are 41% higher in high-risk areas than in low-risk areas. The likelihood for cardiovascular health issues, asthma, and an adverse opioid-related drug event is also significantly higher in the District’s high-risk communities.
When it comes to healthcare services and programs, the analysis reveals that residents with means often seek care outside of the valley — which can contribute to and is exacerbated by the local physician shortage. Cardiovascular, pulmonology and gastroenterology services are most often sought outside the valley.
Inpatient pediatric care is also frequently sought elsewhere, due to having 70 fewer pediatricians than are needed locally, the analysis shows. A recommendation to address this issue is to grow residency programs across the valley with a particular focus on federally qualified health centers.
The analysis lists many final recommendations that are in alignment with the Healthcare District’s strategic plan goals to expand community access to primary, specialty and behavioral/mental health services for all residents.
Ultimately, the findings and recommendations, together, “tell a narrative about the healthcare infrastructure that we have today and the healthcare infrastructure that we want to have tomorrow,” Bárzaga said.
About the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation
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. Learn more at dhcd.org.
- Health Disparities: Shutterstock