After years of planning and talking, the 70-year-old Desert Healthcare District is perfectly poised to expand its services to the entire Coachella Valley.
In February, the District’s board approved the move to expand stating that it is fully committed to the process. Boosting that vote, the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) on Thursday unanimously approved the annexation of the eastern Coachella Valley to the Desert Health Care District.
“This …vote means we have an opportunity to expand healthcare opportunities beyond the current Cook Street boundaries in Palm Desert to the Eastern Valley,” Thomas S. Freeman, chief of public policy for Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez.
Freeman told Uken Report that he and his colleagues will work to set a date for the required election by our voters.
“(This) vote would not have happened without the cooperation of the Board of Supervisors, LAFCO and the Desert Health Care District,” Freeman said. “Each deserves a great deal of credit.”
One last debt of gratitude is owed to Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia for his authorship of AB 2414, Freeman said. This bill set the stage for the expansion of the district boundaries to cover Eastern Coachella Valley cities and our unincorporated communities.
“Greater healthcare parity is on the horizon for our entire Coachella Valley region, following Thursday’s successful determination,” Garcia told Uken Report. “The voters will now decide.
“Our community’s access to resources should never be restricted based on zip code. I feel confident that the expansion will occur and bring healthcare services closer to where they are needed.”
More than 30 Coachella Valley leaders showed up to the hearing last week in Riverside to express support for the annexation.
“The Desert Healthcare District’s expansion into the East Valley is an extremely important opportunity for many in our underserved communities,” said Indio Mayor Michael H. Wilson. “Access to the financial tools that the Desert Healthcare District can bring to the East Valley opens up opportunities to create access to Healthcare for many of our residents that otherwise lack the resources to do so. This also provides the ability for local agencies, cities, to partner and combine efforts to reach the most vulnerable residents and impact their lives in such a positive way by gaining access to resources that they simply would not have without it.
“The health of our residents and our communities, by creating more access to healthcare tools and needs, is the single highest priority we have next to their public safety,” Wilson added. “This action by LAFCO will change lives in the East Valley for the better and it’s one more step forward for the underserved and a step long overdue.”
The Desert Healthcare District is a leading organization connecting local residents to health providers, facilities, programs, and services. Each year they grant an average of $4 million to nonprofit, community-based and provider-based organizations to assist residents – especially the under-served – in accessing vitally needed resources, such as primary and behavioral health care, housing, food, and transportation resources.
The government agency was formed in 1948 with a mission to achieve optimal health at all stages of life for district residents which encompasses the cities of Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert (west of Cook Street), and unincorporated areas of Riverside County.
The agency is now ready to spread the wealth throughout the Valley.
“No one is healthy unless everyone in the community is healthy,” said Board President Dr. Les Zendle, MD. “It’s about expanding and transforming to help better meet the needs of all Coachella Valley residents.”
Identifying and securing the funding option for the expansion was one of the last critical steps in the process. At a special meeting in February, the board voted to establish an amount for self-funding at a minimum of $300,000 per year to assure the process moves to the ballot in November 2018. Their goal is to eventually match the $4 million invested in the current district territory.
If the expansion initiative is approved by the east Valley voters, two new board members would be appointed from the east, increasing the board of directors to a total of seven. This would be followed by a 2020 election process that would divide the District into seven voting districts with representation in accordance with demographics, including population and geographic factors, of the entire area.
The District service area would expand from 515 square miles and more than 200,000 residents in the west Valley to a new total of 2,275 square miles, adding roughly 240,000 more residents from the east. It would encompass the remainder of Palm Desert (east of Cook Street), the cities of Bermuda Dunes, Coachella, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Mecca, North Shore, Oasis, Thermal, Vista Santa Rosa and other unincorporated areas of Riverside County.
“With polling of both east and west Valley voters indicating that 75 and 85 percent of residents, respectively, favor expansion, the District is fully committed to extending our ability to connect all residents to health and wellness services,” said District/Foundation CEO Herb K. Schultz, who cited the voter surveys conducted for the District by Probolsky Research.
Through the polling, extensive research and analysis, as well as significant community input, the DHCD is working to expand, which will help reduce the health disparities that exist from west to east.