County Committee Addressing Health Inequities Moves Forward
The office interior of Clinicas De Salud Del Pueblo, located in El Centro near the Imperial Valley Mall. | COURTESY IMAGE

County Committee Addressing Health Inequities Moves Forward

IMPERIAL COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for more health equity in Imperial County.

“The chronic inequities that are experienced in the Valley are really making it hard for the vulnerable communities, and this is an issue of health inequity,” said Calexico resident Daniela Flores. “Longstanding inequities make us more vulnerable to the virus, and the impacts are more lethal.”

Flores, a founding member of the Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition, is on the Imperial County Health Equity Advisory Committee established by the county Board of Supervisors in August to address those inequities.

Flores and her nascent group have been working alongside the county to develop the committee.

Creating such a committee to look into issues of health inequalities is a matter of urgency, especially due to the pandemic, Flores said. There are more per capita deaths in the Valley due to COVID-19 than the rest of the state, and the pandemic is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities in Calexico, East El Centro, East Brawley, Heber, and Holtville.

“We stand here with both excitement and also a sense of urgency in asking you to approve the bylaws of the ad hoc committee,” she said, adding that the committee brings together community groups working toward health equity. “… This ad hoc committee has been working hard to arrive at some bylaws that creates infrastructure for this broad collaboration of community groups and representatives from vulnerable communities to address some of the hardships our communities are facing. So, the creation of the health equity advisory committee brings us closer in statewide conversation that center on addressing the disparities.”

Bylaws for the Imperial County Health Equity Advisory Committee were presented, and approved, by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and presenters pointed out the need to look into health inequities.

“We need this committee to bring together representatives from disadvantaged communities, to make inequities known the way they live them, and to be part of advocating for solutions for the chronic health crisis our community lives with,” Flores said.

The board was supportive of the group moving forward, with Chairman Luis Plancarte even telling the group of supporters, “Let’s get to work.”

Those who have helped put the bylaws together came to the podium to defend the guiding document, including Comite Civico del Valle’s Luis Olmedo.

“COVID has exposed a lot of inequities that we’ve known,” he said. “I believe that the fact that we’ve known that these inequities exist doesn’t mean that we necessarily want to ignore them. We want to do something about it, but sometimes we do need leadership, and the leadership the county has brought, the leadership of all the partners, everybody who has stepped up.”

It was fitting, Olmedo added, that on Election Day, a day when important decisions about the future of the country are being made, a decision like this would be made in Imperial County, to move forward with the health equity bylaws.

“We as a community need to also look at the direction we go,” he said. “Not necessarily guided by what is happening nationally or statewide, but as a community ourselves. Because no matter what, we all are intertwined by family, by work, by neighbors.”

Olmedo said he hopes other municipalities move forward to get involved as well.

Some came in with a more guarded outlook.

Brawley resident Eric Reyes said that while he is happy the bylaws are before the board, he came in with some reservations.

“I still feel that, while you are all good people, there are still obstacles and barriers institutionally, that you are not in control of,” he said. “As we support Daniela and the group that was negotiating with the county, they encountered that frustration, disappointment, they felt there were setbacks, and we told them, ‘stay the course.’ 

“They’re young. We’ve been slapped in the face many times,” Reyes added, laughing. “Many times. The point is, they stayed the course.”

He added that he had reservations about whether this ad hoc committee would be as effective as it could be. If it could bring everyone together toward a common goal, it can be effective, Reyes said.

This story is featured in the Nov 5, 2020 e-Edition.

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