The Health Matters Summit brought many industry leaders to the Valley including former General Surgeon David Satcher, MD, PhD. (pictured with Publisher Lauren Del Sarto)

Five years ago, the Coachella Valley received an incredible gift. We were chosen to be the model region for changing health behaviors in our community. The grand task would take many organizations working together for the greater good and the work of countless individuals making significant efforts – large and small – for themselves, their neighbors, and the next generation.

We accepted the challenge set forth by the Clinton Foundation and five years later continue to reap the benefits and continue the work. Our successes and challenges also helped define the foundation’s Community Transformation Model currently being implemented in other regions across the country.

Fresh produce for all! Boys & Girls Club kids enjoy a free farmer’s markets.

The goal of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) is to improve the well-being of our nation’s population  associated with preventable disease one community – and one person – at a time. Local leaders from a variety of sectors are brought together and Bold Action Steps designed to be “audacious and ambitious” are specified in a Blueprint for Action.

Those steps started with us. We came together; worked hard, and the impact has been significant. The specific goals we established aimed at improving health behaviors (smoking, diet and exercise, alcohol use and sexual activity); clinical care (access and quality); social and economic factors (education, employment, family and social support, income and community safety); and physical environment (air quality and constructing healthier communities). We reached many goals, some are still in the works, and others were set aside.

“As CHMI’s first community health transformation region, the Coachella Valley served as an ideal pilot area for CHMI’s vision of engaging, mobilizing, and empowering a broad spectrum of residents and leaders to improve health outcomes across a wide range of indicators,” states CHMI CEO Alex Chan. CHMI has added six more regions in five states since the launch in the Valley.

While many may measure our success by the goals accomplished, the greatest impact just may be the enhanced awareness it brought to the valley. The conversations on health, and opportunities surrounding health and wellness, continue to grow and exceed that of most other communities throughout the country.

Did the Health Matters Initiative do it all? Of course not. We are a resort town, and many have been working hard for years to ensure all members of the community have access to health care, activities, food and education. However, the CHMI did give many pending programs access to the platform and network needed to materialize or grow, which is another notable accomplishment. Some of those programs include:

  • more effective sex education in schools taught by medical residents
  • vegetable gardens, healthier vending machines, and wellness councils in public schools
  • community-wide testing for HIV
  • non-profit partnerships that deliver farm-fresh produce to a larger number of seniors, kids and the underserved
  • OneFuture Coachella Valley’s efforts to encourage high schoolers to aspire to medical careers in locally deficient specialties such as mental health
  • expanding the Desert Healthcare District’s boundaries to serve all east valley residents

Many of these community efforts would not have come to fruition by 2018 without the vision, support and facilitation of the CHMI. Certainly, a key factor was the dedication and inspiration of the foundation’s local director, Tricia Gehrlein, a 30-year resident of the Valley who was at the center of the movement for all five years.

Many schools started running clubs as part of the program.

The efforts not being tallied are those by each community member who has been inspired by the movement: the mother whose child brought home fresh vegetables from school and started making healthier choices at the grocery store; the senior inspired by the United Way’s 9 Weekly Walks who started a walking club in her neighborhood; or the employer introduced to the foundation’s Workplace Wellness program who now offers healthier meals, recess breaks and Desert Health news in their workplace.

“Over the last five years, your efforts have been proof that cooperation works,” stated President Clinton in a video message of appreciation. Naming key contributors, he recognized that every one of them took bold steps toward improving the health of our community in very creative ways and, in the process, provided a blueprint for others to follow.

At his 2015 Health Activation Summit, the President stated that statistically it takes 17 years to see measurable change when an idea is implemented; we are only one third of the way there.

From this effort, others have sprouted: many of our individual towns are now designated HEAL cities (Healthy Eating Active Living); efforts are underway to incorporate a Sleep Matters Initiative regionally emphasizing the importance of sleep and testing for sleep disorders; others are looking into making the Coachella Valley a Blue Zone; and this year, the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau is launching a tourism initiative to establish the Desert as a health and wellness destination (see pg. 1).

Will the Foundation continue to support our work? “The Blueprint was always intended to be five years of engagement by CHMI, but to be sustainable beyond that window by galvanizing the community behind a set of goals and specific steps to achieve them,” says Chan. “However, beyond this, the Clinton Foundation will continue to be engaged in the Coachella Valley several ways moving forward.”

Those efforts include supporting the California State University, San Bernardino Palm Desert Campus through the Clinton Foundation’s College Health Program; working with local partners including the Inland Empire’s Opioid Crisis Coalition to address the opioid epidemic in the region; and sharing best practices with the Coachella Valley across all the Clinton Foundation’s community health transformation regions.

Our sincere thanks go out to all who have taken part in this campaign and those who continue to advance the work. If you are hearing about the Clinton Health Matters Initiative for the first time, give yourself a hand. By picking up this issue of Desert Health, you are learning about many of the Desert’s healthy happenings and taking the first step to join the movement towards a healthier Coachella Valley.

To view the full recap report, Coachella Valley: Five Years of Community Health Transformation, download this PDF.

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