By Miguel Gonzalez
(Apple Valley)–As the High Desert’s population expands, the need for health-related services becomes more apparent. At the forefront of providing education and services to residents is the St. Mary’s Medical Center Foundation, which works with residents in the area to provide them with affordable and quality healthcare for the under privileged and the less fortunate. “Our goal is to raise money and support the mission of the hospital,” said Foundation Vice President Paul Kaminski. “Raising money is a challenge in any climate, we do a lot of community work with everyone. We also partner with all of the cities to do the healthy campaign, we partner with local schools teaching kids the value of nutrition and monitoring obesity,” explained Kaminski.
Chief among its challenges are the above-average percentages of obesity and diabetes among High Desert residents, according to a recent St. Joseph Health, St. Mary Community Health Needs Assessment study. “The percentage of residents with diabetes in the High Desert is growing more quickly.
There is a big challenge with being able to get quality food in this area. We can work with schools and educate kids all we want, but if kids go home and they do not get the proper nutrition, it makes it really tough to get our point across,” said Kaminski.
In 2012, the percentage of population with diabetes in the High Desert was of 15.3%, well above the California average of 8.6% and the national average of 8.7%.
Diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. The prevalence of diabetes is higher among individuals aged 65 and older.
Changes in lifestyle behaviors like eating healthy and exercise can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
The hospital’s effort addressing healthy city work models, the successful campaigns of Loma Linda, Healthy Fontana and Healthy Rancho Cucamonga which served as samples so that by 2013 the High Desert has four Healthy City campaigns. Additionally, its partnership with schools and clinics is successfully combating obesity and diabetes across the High Desert. The hospital’s work also begins to support expanding parks, improving streets and bringing healthier foods to residents without these services.
A PROCESS OF EDUCATION
For the foundation and its leadership, those alarming statistics signify a need for awareness and development of programs that teach adults and children the right foods and exercises to reduce the threat of diabetes. “From fitness programs, school nutrition and even farmers markets, we have the challenge to coordinate this information and then spread it around the community,” Kaminski said.
St. Mary’s Foundation estimates there are between 30,000 and 60,000 people living in the High Desert with no insurance plan, which is a direct obstacle in creating awareness of the causes of obesity and ultimately, diabetes.
To bring that much-needed awareness to disadvantaged communities the foundation has launched a mobile van program that travels around the High Desert. “Our van brings services of dieticians, social workers and other experts to talk to members of the community.”
The hospital’s Community Health and Healthy Communities programs expand as additional partners learn of its mission. Hospital employees have started serving on the boards of community organization and mentoring at-risk children at schools.
Also, the hospital has begun development of a Health Career program with the assistance of Silverado High School, AAE and Apple Valley Unified School District.
Additionally, grant funds awarded by the St. Joseph Health Partnership Fund enable the opening of a church lead food and health program in Hesperia in 2008 and in 2011, additional grants provided enable expansion of the Lord’s Table and St. John of God’s programs serving the poor in old-town Victorville. In 2008 the hospital began partnering with San Bernardino County Public Health leaders to address the systemic issue of obesity as the leading risk factor of Diabetes, Cancer, and Heart Disease. Efforts to bring additional community clinics to the High Desert succeeded with the opening of a Federally Qualified Health Center on Bear Valley Road and Molina opening clinics in Adelanto and Victorville.
David Greiner, President of Greiner Buick GMC and community leader, said that the work of the foundation has impressed him throughout the years: “The foundation supports the ongoing mission of the hospital, which includes providing affordable healthcare for the under privileged and the less fortunate. That’s an important service for our desert,” Greiner explained. “They never sacrifice values for the bottom line, this is a foundation that makes our desert better,” Greiner added.
Kaminski said the foundation will continue to educate and assist those who need it the most. “We deal with everyone and try to affect them in a positive way so we can have healthier communities,” Kaminski concluded.
CONTRIBUTING TO ST. MARY’S FOUNDATION
There are many ways that your gifts and time help local residents have access to the highest quality healthcare right here in our own communities. There are many opportunities for your gifts and time to benefit the patients and families helped at St. Mary Medical Center.