St. Joseph Health consistently works to identify health problems of the
poor and marginalized. With the help of many partners, it is able to provide
Health care has evolved dramatically since 1912 when the Sisters of St.
Joseph of Orange ministered to victims of the flu epidemic in Eureka,
But the mission of the founding Sisters has remained the same. “We
are committed to those who are poor and vulnerable at the margins of society,”
says Rosie Perez, senior vice president of Mission Integration at
St. Joseph Health.
The Affordable Care Act has enabled the poor to access health care, says
Perez. “We know the ACA is not perfect, but we would like to see
work done on it without a full-on repeal,” she says.
Identifying the needs of all O.C. communities and reaching those who need
help most is the ongoing work of St. Joseph Health, and it often requires
innovative practices. This means reaching the community beyond our hospital
walls, says Perez.
A little-known part of the Affordable Care Act offers guidance on how to
determine what a community needs in terms of health.
“The ACA specifically outlines how to create a community health needs
assessment,” says Perez. “It must describe the community,
obtain relevant statistics, and even engage academic partners to interpret
those statistics. It calls for us to work with partners to prioritize
the issues,” she says.
As a nurse for 30 years, Perez saw the rise in diabetes, asthma, obesity
and other chronic illnesses. But health needs assessments in Orange County
reveal factors that contribute to those and other health problems.
Contributing health factors
“Affordable housing is the foundation of good health,” says
Perez. “Orange County housing is expensive, people who are dealing
with a lot of health issues risk losing their housing.”
Getting enough good food is another factor. “The need for access
to affordable, healthy food is consistently identified in community health
assessments,” says Perez. “We see the effects of this in obesity
in children. One in every six Orange County children in 5th grade is obese.”
Transportation is critical, too: Being able to get to a doctor’s
office or to an income-earning job can positively impact a person’s health.
Working with partners
Once needs are identified, Perez says St. Joseph Health works with local
partners to find solutions.
“For example, to address the food access issue, we work with the
Waste Not OC Coalition in helping distribute food to local pantries. We’ve
also given grants to food pantries and food-related programs so families
can get healthy food,” she says.
To combat childhood obesity, St. Joseph Health partners with organizations
such as the YMCA to develop exercise and wellness programs.
Reaching the poor
One challenge facing St. Joseph Health is that some disadvantaged communities
are not aware of the existing programs that can help them.
“Sometimes the first point of contact is when people come in through
emergency room or hospital,” says Perez. “That’s our
opportunity to make them aware of programs right in their back yard, such
as community clinics and mobile units that go out to underserved communities.”
To facilitate communication, translators are often on hand for programs,
and health materials are provided in languages other than English. “We’ve
always done that, it’s a legacy from the Sisters in 17th-century
France,” says Perez.
A commitment to OC communities
Perez is proud to say that St. Joseph Health spent $441 million last year
to benefit surrounding communities. “Despite the constant change,
regulatory and otherwise, we are committed to meeting needs of our communities
and staying true to our legacy,” she says.
(This article originally appeared in OC Catholic, March, 2017)