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Moving Health Forward

By Lauren Del Sarto

There is a movement taking place in the Coachella Valley and someone you know is taking part. It’s innovative, exciting and game changing. It’s large scale, long-term and countrywide. Most importantly, it is certain to positively impact you, your neighbors, your kids, and our entire desert community.

The goal of the movement is to improve health in great numbers, and many are busy preparing, planning, and implementing their part. 

It’s the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), and although guided by the Clinton Foundation, community members are doing the work. 18 months ago, they came together to develop a Blueprint for Action establishing 9 health behaviors on which to focus each with 5 specific goals for improvement (referred to as “bold steps”) to be achieved within the next 5-7 years. 

Sound out of reach? It’s not. Much success has already been achieved by individuals (like you) taking part on committees to plan, strategize and implement health programs and educational campaigns for the greater good of our local population. Working together, this faction is moving positive health forward and creating change. 

healthier-community-team-effortThe Coachella Valley was the first region in the country to take part in this national initiative which now includes Central Arkansas (Little Rock); Northeast Florida, Florida (Jacksonville); and Greater Houston, Texas. We are the model to which others refer, and we are doing a very good job.

“We are constantly in awe and inspired by the cohesion that you have around this work,” stated CHMI acting CEO Rain Henderson. “You all have fabulous day jobs, and all have a lot that you are doing, and the amount of energy and investment you have committed to working with us on this initiative is truly special and unique.” 

In June, 117 local participants gathered for a progress report to review achievements and celebrate successes. There are close to 100 community organizations taking part in a vast array of programs developed to achieve the 45 Blueprint goals including non-profits, private sector, media, government agencies, and law enforcement.

The developments are impressive, inspiring, and rewarding for those taking part. In just 18 short months, 65 percent of the bold steps have been put in place with committee support, action items and planning or implementation. Below are the health behaviors which make up the Blueprint and the number of bold steps currently in place:

  1. Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (2 of 5)
  2. Healthy Eating and Quality of Food (4 of 5)
  3. Physical Activity (3 of 5)
  4. Sexual Activity (2 of 5)
  5. Healthcare Access and Quality (5 of 5)
  6. Education, Employment and Income (3 of 5)
  7. Family and Social Support (2 of 5)
  8. Community Safety (3 of 5)
  9. Environment Quality and the Built Environment (5 of 5)
  10. Let’s take a look at some of the progress to date.

Improving nutrition in our schools

Behavior: Healthy Eating and Food Quality

Bold Step: Implement state-of-the-art education programs and healthy meals in all valley schools 

One of the first bold steps to be addressed, nutrition and nutritional education was spearheaded by the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation. A full time regional manager was appointed and funding was provided by the Desert Healthcare District Foundation. 80 schools, including all public schools in the valley, are taking part. School menus have improved and programs are being taught providing lifelong skills and encouraging kids to make healthier choices. Much success is due to the enthusiasm of the nutritional services managers within each district who are working closely with the Alliance. Some schools are even offering take home meals to ensure kids have nutritious options once they leave.

Making physical activity safe and accessible

Behaviors: A. Physical Activity and B. Environmental Quality

Bold Steps: A. Create a cohesive physical activity plan for the valley; A. Implement a recreation infrastructure, including a trail system that allows all people of the CV to be active; B. Create a fully implemented “Non-motorized Transportation Plan”

CV Link, the 50-mile multi-use path will connect the valley from Palm Springs to Coachella offering a scenic and auto-free place to bike, run, jog, and inline skate. While plans for the project preceded the CHMI, incorporation into the Blueprint has generated additional support, team work, and funding. $65 million of the estimated $100 million budget has been raised, environmental studies are underway and RFPs have been issued for engineering and design. Desert cities are working together with CVAG and the County, targeting a 2016 ground breaking. A health study of this project also showed an overall economic benefit of $1.47 billion including $152 million in health care costs through 2035.

Other projects in the works that fall under Physical Activity include shared access of school playgrounds and facilities for the entire community; funded swimming lessons for all children under third grade to enhance safety as well as physical activity; and a community health portal to share information and connect people through health and wellness.

Reducing the number of drunk driving incidents

Behavior: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use 

Bold Step: Implement a Substance Abuse Task Force to coordinate prevention activities across the valley 

The advisory committee was formed and four areas of concern identified: alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, prescription drug abuse, and e-cigarettes. Starting with alcohol, they decided to focus on reducing DUI incidents through education, targeting the general public, school-aged kids, and parents. 

PSA campaigns are in the works and include local TV and outdoor, and letters have appeared in print. The district attorney’s office is working with schools to create a DUI Resource Tool Kit to include an ‘Alcohol 101’ powerpoint for parents, and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has agreed to create a free resource website for schools. 

Working with students at Palm Desert High School, they created a week-long awareness campaign entitled “Engage Before You Rage”, and Rockers Against Drunk Driving (RADD) is creating a pre-paid card for taxis that can be kept in your wallet. This may be especially effective for kids as it provides more discretion than a credit card that is billed later. RADD is also working with the committee and local establishments to create a designated driver incentive program offering free food or non-alcoholic beverages.

The above action items provide an idea of how the CHMI – and all its members – are working to improve the health of our community. There are many more bold steps in place, and we will continue to spotlight their progress in Desert Health®

 What can you do to get involved?

The CHMI is continuously seeking new ideas and efforts to assist in achieving the 45 bold steps outlined in the Blueprint. “Everybody from every walk of life, regardless of their job, has a place in the Blueprint,” said Tricia Gehrlein, CHMI’s regional director. Those who would like to take part are encouraged to review the Blueprint and contact Gehrlein directly.

As a Clinton Health Matters Initiative Pledge Maker, I can tell you that taking part in the movement – and something bigger than yourself – is inspiring, energizing, and extremely rewarding. 

“You have all made commitments that you have been diligently working on, and we are so thankful to each and every one of you for your partnership,” adds Henderson. “On behalf of all of us at the Clinton Foundation, please know that you are doing something that is truly remarkable when it comes to community transformation.” 

To view the Coachella Valley Blueprint for Action visit www.clintonfoundation.org/files/chmi_coachella_valley_blueprint.pdf

For more information on the Clinton Health Matters Initiative visit www.clintonhealthmatters.org or contact Tricia Gehrlein at tgehrlein@clintonfoundation.org or (760) 834.0975.

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