Two Indio residents are vying for the Desert Healthcare District’s Zone 6 seat this November, the only contested race in the district.
Kimberly Barraza, a health policy advisor, and Chauncey L. Thompson, a CPA firm director, are seeking a four-year term. Incumbent Karen Borja announced she would not run again. Zone 6, based on newly redrawn district lines following the 2020 Census, covers the areas of Indio and Coachella.
The Desert Healthcare District is a local government agency whose goal is to help Coachella Valley residents receive health care resources, housing, food and other services.
The district, formed in 1948, long served only the west valley and ended at Cook Street, which cuts through Palm Desert and Indian Wells. But voters in November 2018 supported expanding the district’s boundaries to include La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, the rest of Palm Desert and Indian Wells, Bermuda Dunes, Thermal, Mecca, North Shore and other unincorporated communities. The board was then divided into seven new zones covering the valley, with Borja being the first person to hold the Zone 6 seat following a special board meeting on Jan. 15, 2019.
Two other board seats that were up for election this year won’t be on the ballot because no challengers filed. Incumbents Carole Rogers (Zone 2) and Evett PerezGil (Zone 4) will begin another four-year term in November, according to the district.
Barraza, 34, grew up in Imperial Valley, but has spent her adult life in Indio, where she has raised her two children. She has worked for the California State Assembly in Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s office the past eight years as a district representative and policy advisor.
Since she moved to the Coachella Valley, she has tried to get involved in her community as best as possible. She serves as the vice president for the Desert Recreation Foundation Board, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing Coachella Valley residents with access to quality recreational resources, facilities, parks and programs. She is also the chairperson of the Indio Community Services Commission, an advising board to the city council that provides input on parks, festivals and other programs.
From a young age, Barraza was interested in getting involved in her community, she said. When she was in college, she interned for a state senator and got a taste of community and policy work. She also worked with the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship Church in Indio and spoke with youth about college, scholarships, job preparedness and more.
Her work with Garcia’s office has allowed her to connect with constituents, and through policy work, “help the residents of our district.”
“Not a lot of people have it in them to serve the community, and I have been serving my community for 15 years since I moved to Indio,” Barraza said. “At the end of the day, I don’t do it for me. I do it because of the kindness of my heart, because it’s important to have people who are working for the people.”
She has also worked with the Desert Healthcare District through Garcia’s office.
Her time in the Coachella Valley has given her an opportunity to identify needs in the eastern communities, particularly those related to health care. If elected to the Desert Healthcare District board, Barraza said one of the issues she’d like to focus on is the area’s shortage of primary care providers. She said she has heard from residents who say they have to wait months at a time to see their doctors, and often have to rely on the emergency department for urgent needs.
Earlier this year, registered nurses at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs held two rallies to bring attention to alleged understaffing and high turnover rates at health care facilities.
Barraza said she would like to see more partnerships with local colleges and universities to “grow our own” and keep prospective health care providers in the valley. Not only would that boost provider numbers, but “if you work within the community that you grew up in, you serve better,” she said.
Other priorities include identifying funding sources that would support the east valley, and advocating for behavioral and mental health and people with disabilities.
“There are folks who say, ‘I’ll throw my name in the hat because whatever.’ It’s not the case here,” Barraza said. “I tried to think of every single thing I could think of not to do it, but the reasons to run outweigh the reasons not to. Knowing that I have the opportunity to represent and work for my community in this capacity outweighed any other reason not to.”
Chauncey L. Thompson
Thompson, 35, moved to Cathedral City in 2011, but has lived in Indio since 2015 with his wife and three children. He is a firm director for Barton CPA and oversees the day-to-day production, mergers, acquisitions, contract negotiations and maintains the firm’s strategic planning.
Similarly, Thompson has found ways to get involved in the community. He joined Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, which offers free health care services to the valley’s uninsured and underinsured residents, as a volunteer in 2014. Soon after, he joined the board and has been treasurer since 2017, and he also sits on several committees within the organization. He also volunteers with Brothers of the Desert, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources for Black men in the Coachella Valley, and has helped many with financial tips, such as how to maintain a budget, balance a checkbook and differentiate between good and bad debt.
Thompson was familiar with the Desert Healthcare District through his work with Volunteers in Medicine, but said he took time to get a better understanding of the district and its priorities before he decided to run. The Indio resident said he is ready to dedicate the next 12 years, or three terms, to serve on the board due to upcoming local matters, such as the 2027 expiration of Tenet Healthcare’s 30-year lease of Desert Regional Medical Center, and the hospital’s seismic retrofits that need to be completed by 2030.
“My whole thought was, I can combine my experience in the nonprofit sector as well as my experience in [the] financial sector and see how I can help not elevate the board, but add to the board,” Thompson said.
Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs is owned by the district, while Tenet Healthcare operates the hospital. Regarding the Tenet lease, Thompson said it is important that “we, as a district, as the board, with the community, really understand everything that the nine cities want here in our valley,” and that Tenet is “making a reinvestment back in the community.”
The Desert Healthcare District estimates the cost to meet retrofit requirements at Desert Regional to be $119 million to $180 million. Thompson believes inflation will increase costs, which will force the district to put in some thought on how it will fund the project, especially if state funding is not available.
Related: Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia seeks $1B to help public district hospitals with seismic retrofits
Other priorities for Thompson, if elected, would include more oversight on funds distributed in the community, and providing various levels of behavioral and mental health services throughout the valley. He envisions a valley-wide plan that would combine hospital, school and law enforcement services, among others, he said.
Thompson’s long-term goal is to see another hospital in the east valley. Currently, JFK Memorial in Indio serves the area, but “as the east valley continues to grow … we’re going to see more of a population and we’re going to need to have resources for that population,” he said.
He also wants to bring the district to the public’s attention and make sure they know what exactly it is and what its prioritizes are.
“I think this valley has tremendous growth coming, and we need to make sure we have the board in place to serve the valley,” Thompson said. “Even though it’s not one of the most publicized races, it is truly, I mean truly, one of the more important ones.”
Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.