Working together to improve community health
After Rosario Santillan of Ontario, California suffered an accidental injury that made physical movement challenging, she began gaining weight. As her feelings of sadness and frustration increased, so did the numbers on the scale and her blood pressure. To make matters worse, her doctor diagnosed her with prediabetes.
Santillan wanted to take charge of her health. As her injury improved, she began taking free Zumba classes offered at the Dorothy A. Quesada Community Center. The center is one of five health hubs created in Ontario as part of a Kaiser Permanente initiative designed to make healthy choices more accessible to individuals and families in areas of need.
Doing regular workouts and connecting with others soon inspired Santillan to take advantage of the center’s free gym and nutrition classes. “I feel so much better – I’ve lost over 67 pounds,” said Santillan proudly after finishing a Zumba class she now teaches. “I have normal blood pressure without medication, wonderful new friends and I’m not prediabetic or depressed anymore.”
Santillan’s positive experience showed her firsthand how small steps can lead to big change, and how social support helps encourage success. The concept is one the city of Ontario knows well. In 2007, it launched Healthy Ontario – a long-term initiative that strives to make Ontario a model for healthy communities by improving physical, social, environmental and economic health and well-being – one action at a time.
To help support Ontario’s ongoing efforts, the city of Ontario and Kaiser Permanente Southern California began partnering in 2012 to engage residents and local organizations to create meaningful change through the Ontario HEAL Zone initiative. Neighborhood residents as well as representatives of the city and local school districts, community clinics, businesses and higher education collectively identified priorities to focus on together.
Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating Active Living (or HEAL) initiative is one of the many ways Kaiser Permanente goes beyond traditional health care to help improve health outcomes for everyone in the areas Kaiser Permanente serves.
“Communities are vital settings that create the conditions of health, as well as feature the non-medical resources that promote wellbeing and prevent disease,” said Roberta Tinajero, manager, community benefit, Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “We know excellent medical care alone isn’t sufficient to create good health, and we must collaborate with others to develop health-promoting physical, social and economic environments.”
Over the past six years, the city of Ontario, Kaiser Permanente, and other public, private and nonprofit, community-based organizations have worked diligently together to put $2 million in Kaiser Permanente HEAL grant funding to good use. From making street routes safer and offering free exercise classes and health education assistance through the health hubs, to improving parks and developing a national award-winning, 2.5-acre urban garden, the city continues to progress toward its Healthy Ontario goal.
In fact, the California Strategic Growth Council recently awarded the city a $35 million Transformative Climate Communities grant that targets the HEAL Zone. The funding will enhance public transportation, bike lanes and sidewalks, build affordable homes, promote energy efficiency, increase food security and provide new green spaces to improve residents’ health and quality of life.
“The changes in the HEAL Zone community are noticeable – the health hubs are bustling, the residents are more involved,” said Karen Thompson, associate planner, city of Ontario, who is also the city’s HEAL Zone lead. “We’ve built trust and deep relationships in the community. The funding from the state will allow us to take what we’ve done in the HEAL Zone and expand it.”
“The city laid the foundation for a Healthy Ontario, but Kaiser Permanente’s partnership certainly helped us get the $35 million grant,” said Ontario Mayor Paul Leon. “Kaiser Permanente didn’t just give Ontario a lot of money and walk away: They listened to us and engaged.”
Because of everyone’s good work to help create a healthier Ontario, residents like Santillan are reaping the benefits. Today, Santillan helps other community members through the HEAL Zone effort as a promotora, providing free basic health education to fellow Hispanic/Latino community members.
“Change takes time – it’s a shift in thinking,” said Santillan. “But the results are so worth it.”