At first glance, the headline above may seem puzzling. What do hospitals have to do with climate change? Let me explain.
California’s Central Valley contains six of the 10 most polluted cities, according the American Lung Association. Sadly, Orlando (pictured above) is just one of the many residents of the Valley who suffers from asthma that is largely caused or worsened by the poor air quality. Orlando uses a nebulizer, a device that administers medication in the form of a mist, to treat his asthma during school recesses. In the Fresno Unified School District, almost one in five students have asthma.
In response to this epidemic, Kaiser Permanente donated $20,000 to help the school district buy more nebulizer tubes to treat students. We applaud Kaiser’s leadership on this, but it’s only a start. More not-for-profit hospitals need to act similarly, and most importantly, they need to go beyond short-term assistance and target the root causes of poor air quality in the Central Valley, from car emissions to fuel industry polluters. If Orlando had clean air to breathe, he wouldn’t need that nebulizer so often.
For the past several years, Greenlining has led a statewide coalition to advocate for not-for-profit hospitals to increase investments that improve the holistic health and well-being of communities of color and low-income communities. Each year, not-for-profit hospitals receive billions of dollars in tax exemptions and subsidies – totaling nearly $3.3 billion amongst not-for-profit hospital systems in California in 2010. In exchange, these hospitals are required to provide vital investments that address the health needs of the communities they serve, with an emphasis on building community health and disease prevention. These investments are known as community benefits.
Communities of color and low-income communities, California’s most vulnerable populations, have the most to gain from community benefits when these investments target the root causes of poor health – poverty, lack of access to healthy foods, and poor air and water quality, to name a few.
How would you invest in the health of your community?
Growing up, I learned the importance of listening to my family, friends, and neighbors. When I was 5 years old, I remember sitting at the end of our driveway with my grandpa, listening as he talked to everyone who walked by. Nearly half a century later, he knew something about everyone in our neighborhood. From the wisdom of those around me, I felt the pulse of my community.
Sociologist David Brain said, “Community is something we practice together. It’s not just a container.” Like science, medicine, and technology, becoming an expert on the needs of your community takes dedication and years of study. There are no better experts on the needs of a community than those, like my grandpa, who “practice” community every day.
As part of our weeklong recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, today we will talk about how the environment in which we live impacts our mental health. In particular, we’ll focus on the most pressing environmental crisis confronting California – the historic drought we’ve experienced over the past few years.
A couple weeks ago, The Fresno Bee published a terrific feature on how the drought is impacting mental health in East Porterville, an unincorporated community in Tulare County. The article does a great job of highlighting some of the health repercussions of the drought in a community of roughly 7,500 residents, three-quarters of whom are Latino. The main thrust of the piece, however, is about the mental health impact of the drought on this community.
“In a town whose problems already include air pollution, water contamination and poverty, the drought has spurred a growing health crisis, worsening respiratory conditions and burdening those with other illnesses.
It gets worse.
… In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies published a guide about protecting public health during a drought. The guide refers to studies in Australia and India that showed elevated levels of suicide among farmworkers living in rural areas affected by severe and extended droughts.
Among those most at risk for drought-related health effects, it says, are “people living in rural or remote areas who depend on water from private wells and small or poorly maintained municipal systems, the quality of which is more susceptible to environmental changes.”
Editor's note: This terrific event is great for anyone looking for new technologies and strategies for furthering a social justice mission. In particular, there is an emphasis on how to use technology to promote equity in California's communities of color.
On July 30 and 31, fellow capacity builders, mentors, and community organizers from across the state are joining together at the first California Nonprofit Technology Leadership Summit held near Bakersfield at the National Chavez Center.
The CA Tech Summit will be an immersive experience to strengthen the network of leaders in rural and urban areas who are passionate about social justice and technology.
Over the past five years, participants from more than thirty unique California cities convened for the California Nonprofit Technology Festivals in Fresno, Sacramento, Coachella, Los Angeles, and Richmond. From community health, environmental justice, to youth leadership organizations, a diverse range of nonprofits collaborated to learn new skills and share knowledge.
From this ongoing work, a core group of returning participants and organizations expressed interest in diving deeper into ways to grow and support leaders, create mentoring resources, and share capacity building models. The CA Tech Summit is designed to address this need.
What is on the agenda?
We hope that people leave the Valley with expanded support networks and sustainable practices for navigating the intersection of technology and social change. The interactive agenda will be created with participant input before and during the Summit. Topics may include:
The American Lung Association State of the Air 2015 report, released last week, showed that while progress has been made, California continues to have some of the worst air pollution in the country. In fact, 28 million Californians live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels can make the air unhealthy to breathe. (Click on the map to enlarge.)
Covering air pollution data from 2011-2013, State of the Air 2015 shows that California cities still dominate lists for the most polluted areas in the nation for ozone (smog) as well as short-term and annual particle pollution (soot). Several cities had both higher year round averages and unhealthy days on average of particle pollution driven largely by drought weather conditions.
Specifically, of the top ten cities in the nation with the worst air pollution, California metropolitan areas rank as follows:
Our spring convening series, Focus on Equity: Communities of Color in a Post-ACA California, continued today in Fresno, as health advocates gathered to discuss the most pressing health needs for communities of color in the Central Valley. Like our Oakland convening on Tuesday, this event focused on three key areas: behavioral health integration, considering equity when improving the quality of care, and Health for All efforts to expand access to coverage for everyone regardless of immigration status.
Jennifer Torres from Clinica Sierra Vista started things off by discussing ongoing efforts to integrate behavioral health services with primary care services at community health clinics in Kern and Fresno Counties. She pointed to some initial challenges with assimilating behavioral health into the culture of community health clinics, but also noted that progress has been made.