Ask the PAC: What’s ahead for the Petaluma Healthcare District?

Amid celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Petaluma Healthcare District is gearing up for new partnerships and projects in the new year, part of an effort to bring more health and wellness services to the southern Sonoma County community.

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For more than seven decades, the Petaluma Healthcare District has operated as a community-owned agency, partnering with other local organizations to provide a variety of educational resources and health services to match a wide range of resident needs through south Sonoma County

Since last year’s $52.6 million sale of its Petaluma Valley Hospital site, the healthcare district has worked to update its strategic plan and is looking to create a reimagined vision for Petaluma’s future in health.

Question: How will the Petaluma Healthcare District be expanding in the New Year?

Answer: The district has a lot coming in 2022, including its investment in a Blue Zones project, a grant program revival and the launch of its own foundation that will assist in grant funding.

Before putting their plans into practice, healthcare district leaders partnered with the social science research nonprofit Measure of America to update what’s called the Portrait of Sonoma, a report that measures different physical and mental health needs in the city to use as a guide to better understand the existing disparities. The latest report findings will be released in early 2022.

Its biggest initiative planned with hospital sale revenue is the creation of a Blue Zones project. Blue Zones is a national organization that assesses and helps communities create transformative programs to improve residents’ health and boost overall longevity.

“(Blue Zones) really looks at structures, and community policies and processes that impact health,” said Ramona Faith, CEO of the Petaluma Healthcare District. “We all know that individual behaviors obviously impact your health, but the way things are structured impacts the health of individuals in the community. So it would look at access, walking paths and food access, obesity and heart disease.”

In 2018, the Petaluma Healthcare District launched a grant application process open to all nonprofit organizations addressing southern Sonoma County’s greatest health priorities. While the grant program was put on hold during the pandemic, Faith said it will be returning in 2022. She also said that the district is in the process of forming its own foundation that will allow it to seek outside grants that involve “cross sector partners” in order to gain even more funding for community health priorities, which could include mental or behavioral health services as well as physical health.

Along with prioritizing its two main health initiatives, the Community Health Initiative of the Petaluma Area and HeartSafe Community, the district also looks to expand its health worker program, which will allow designated workers to go out into the community, speak with residents and determine their biggest area of need.

“The coronavirus has really put a spotlight on the inequities in the communities, so that’s another reason why we really push the community health worker program,” Faith said. “In addition to COVID, there’s all these inequities that are going to the top. People haven’t been going to the doctor because of COVID, so a lot of other issues have resulted from COVID. And that’s really what the community health workers help support.”

Faith said the healthcare district is also helping put on a number of vaccine clinics throughout Petaluma now that COVID-19 boosters are available, as well as vaccines for children ages 5-11.

“We have and continue to convene local agencies involved in providing vaccinations and education to align efforts, identify best practices, close gaps and increase vaccination rates,” Faith said.

Aside from the coronavirus, the Petaluma Healthcare District is working to ensure that residents of all ages are staying heart-healthy, and will continue to invest in more resources to support such efforts. For starters, they will be partnering with the VIA Heart Project out of San Francisco to host a youth and young adult cardiac screening at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus on Feb. 27. The event is free of charge and will screen residents ages 12-25.

“On average one out of 300 screened with a diagnosed cardiac anomaly that if gone undetected could lead to a sudden cardiac arrest,” Faith said. “This event will most likely save a life.”

After the sale of the Petaluma Valley Hospital, the healthcare district now leases an office on North McDowell Boulevard.

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