Healdsburg nonprofit doubles down on health equity
Vaccination clinics. Mental health awareness. Care for the unhoused. Grants for grassroots groups.
In Healdsburg, one nonprofit has spent the better part of the COVID-19 pandemic managing all these important programs.
The nonprofit, the 20-year-old Healthcare Foundation of Northern Sonoma County, now finds itself at the center of a series of collaborations with health care providers all over the north county — partnerships that are having major impacts on county residents who need services most.
This newfound approach is all by design; it’s part of a new strategy from Kim Bender, the organization’s new executive director. Bender joined the organization in March 2020, with a plan to focus health care philanthropy on the people who need it most and channel the efforts into health care access and mental health.
In her first year, this has meant launching an emergency fund to support nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic. For Bender, the goal is simple: to eliminate health inequities in Sonoma County.
“So many in our region have great fortune and wealth. Others don’t have the same resources and find themselves struggling, sometimes with life-threatening conditions and situations,” said Bender, a native of Los Angeles. “The pandemic shined a light on dramatic health disparities in our area. We need to focus our efforts in an intentional way on people who don’t have as much; people who are on the margins of our society and need better access to mental health services and health care.”
Pivoting with purpose
Bender has long focused on the need for social justice, racial justice and equal access to services.
She came to the Healthcare Foundation from GLIDE, a nationally recognized center for social justice in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. As senior director of development at that organization, Bender raised money to address homelessness, fighting systemic injustices, creating pathways out of poverty and crisis, and transforming lives. She has described the experience as one of the most “fulfilling” of her life.
She sought to replicate the import and meaning of that experience when she got to Healdsburg.
For starters, in addition to the foundation’s strategic grants, she launched an emergency COVID-19 grant program that has doled out a total of $245,000 through the organization’s Emergency Healthcare Fund since the pandemic began.
Bender has transformed the way the organization gives money, too, in keeping with a trend in the world of philanthropy toward “trust-based” support that has accelerated during the pandemic. Today, under Bender’s leadership, emergency funding is distributed without restrictions, empowering grant recipients to determine where the grant dollars are spent. Bender has also championed inclusion and diversity for the organization’s board of directors — a push that resulted in three new board members who identify as Latinx. This change means 27% of the board’s 15 members are people of color, better representing the demographics of the county overall.
“Already their voices are changing the conversation,” Bender said.
Dr. Michael Valdovinos, who is one of those new board members, said he was honored to be tasked to help steer the organization in a new direction.
Valdovinos specializes in mental health, and he noted that the Healthcare Foundation’s new approach should facilitate greater equity in how mental health services (and health services in general) are administered countywide.
“What I appreciate about (the Healthcare Foundation) is that we lean on the voices in the community to set the tone versus having a bunch of people in an ivory tower strategizing,” said Valdovinos, who grew up in Guerneville. “We’re well positioned in the communities, and that’s a function of having a long-standing record of having a critical ear and boots on the ground.”
Doing good work
Since the pandemic started, the Healthcare Foundation has been innovating to continue to deliver essential care to constituents.
In many cases these efforts revolve around collaborations with local health care providers.
Without question, the biggest push has been to help fight the illness in the form of vaccine clinics. Since February, the Healthcare Foundation has participated in a coalition to coordinate clinics that have vaccinated tens of thousands, from Cloverdale to Windsor.
“Credit for this historic effort belongs to no single organization, but to the partnerships and collaborations that were required to get the job done,” Bender said.
Bender mentioned four organizations that have worked tirelessly to improve public health over the last year: Alliance Medical Center, Alexander Valley Healthcare, Corazón Healdsburg and La Familia Sana. She added that all these organizations were recipients of the Healthcare Foundation’s emergency grants.