Mercury News editorial: Health Trust implements worthy five-year initiative

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Mercury News Editorial
March 5, 2014

The silver lining in the 1996 sale of three San Jose nonprofit hospitals to for-profit HCA was the $56 million required payment to the community that led to the creation of the Health Trust.

In the words of its CEO, Fred Ferrer, the trust has dedicated its work to trying to make the valley the healthiest region in the nation — for everyone, not just for those sharing the wealth of the Silicon Valley economy.

The Health Trust recently announced a five-year wellness initiative that deserves the support of business, government and Santa Clara County residents. The $80 million investment aims to make the valley more livable by reducing chronic homelessness, improving access to fruits and vegetables, bringing locally grown food into neighborhoods, and bolstering health insurance enrollment and health services, especially for senior citizens.

It’s a huge agenda, and the Health Trust will need the continued cooperation of a multitude of nonprofit and government agencies.

Improving the health and nutrition of the valley reduces everyone’s health care costs. We all benefit from reducing the population of homeless encampments, which are unsafe and unsanitary for residents and for the environment.

The most innovative of the Health Trust’s initiatives is Fresh Carts Silicon Valley. The idea is to train residents to own and operate 40 mobile produce vending carts, providing jobs for residents while bringing fresh fruit and produce to neighborhoods whose local markets don’t stock much or any fresh food.

The program would be coordinated with efforts to increase the number of small, community operated farmers markets in San Jose. Farmers markets are growing in popularity throughout Santa Clara County, but fast food still dominates the market in too many neighborhoods. It’s often the least expensive option in low-income areas.

Ferrer says health status today often is determined by education and income levels, the neighborhoods people live in, and the color of their skin. The health care system exacerbates the problem, since medical and dental offices, rehab facilities and even hospitals tend to be placed in more affluent areas.

The Health Trust goal is to create neighborhood wellness hubs for older adults — places where seniors can learn about nutrition and gain better access to traditional Meals on Wheels programs. Ferrer’s goal is to also make the hubs one-stop health information centers where advocates can help provide information on insurance and health care options.

It’s a shame that in the midst of all the wealth in this valley we still have thousands of residents who lack the most basic health and nutrition resources. The Health Trust’s $80 million initiative is well-designed to make the valley more livable for all.