On Nov. 6, voters in the Eastern Coachella Valley will have a unique opportunity to decide on Measure BB, which seeks to expand the geographical boundary of the Desert Healthcare District so Coachella Valley residents who live east of Cook Street — including part of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, and other unincorporated areas — will become part of the District and have better access to healthcare services and programs.

The Desert Healthcare District currently connects Coachella Valley residents who live west of Cook Street to health and wellness services.

Coachella Mayor Steve Hernandez told Uken Report that he unequivocally supports Measure  BB.

“For far too long the cities of La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella plus the unincorporated communities of the county such as Bermuda Dunes, Thermal, Oasis, Mecca, etc., have not had a dedicated funding stream to help fund needed medical services such as primary care and mental health,” Hernandez told Uken Report. “This measure helps fix that without a cost to the taxpayer.”

Indio Mayor Michael Wilson said he, too, supports Measure BB.

“The expansion of healthcare valley wide is of the utmost importance to all Coachella Valley residents,” Wilson told Uken Report. “Any additional resources that can be allocated to the Eastern Coachella Valley for healthcare needs are a great benefit and fulfill a great need to the residents that need it the most.”

In February, the Healthcare District’s board approved the move stating that it is fully committed to the expansion. Boosting that vote, the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) unanimously approved the annexation of the eastern Coachella Valley to the Desert Health Care District.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, authored AB 2414, which set the stage for the expansion of the district boundaries to cover Eastern Coachella Valley cities and the unincorporated communities. The series of steps all led to Measure BB.

“Greater healthcare parity is on the horizon for our entire Coachella Valley region,” Garcia told Uken Report earlier this year. “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.”

Palm Desert Mayor Sabby Jonathan said he personally supports Measure BB and so does the city.

“Palm Desert is unique; part of our City currently falls within the Desert Healthcare District (west of Cook Street), whereas part of our City does not (east of Cook Street),” Jonathan told Uken Report. “Strictly from the City’s perspective, that does not make sense.  If for no other reason, we would favor the expansion of the district in order to bring consistency of coverage to all our residents.”

But beyond that, Jonathan said, “Expanding the district in order to bring much-needed services to residents in the eastern part of the Coachella Valley is the right thing to do. These residents have exceptionally low access to medical care. Measure BB will eliminate barriers, and provide access to adult, pediatric, and behavioral health services. And very importantly, Measure BB will enable Desert Healthcare District to address homelessness in the eastern Coachella Valley, as they have very effectively done in the rest of the Valley.”

Indian Wells City Councilmember Dana Reed said he also supports Measure BB.

“Health care is a regional issue and should be addressed regionally,” Reed told Uken Report. “Measure BB does not raise taxes but leaves open, for future consideration, the issue of funding.  When reviewing funding options it will be critically important that the residents of the new areas not end up paying more than the residents of the existing territory.  This will be tricky, but mandatory. “

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 underserved – 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.

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.

A poll of both east and west Valley voters indicated that 75 and 85 percent of residents, respectively, favor expansion, according to 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 implement the expansion that will help reduce the health disparities that exist from west to east.

Measure BB is now in voters’ hands.