Sierra Kings makes ‘mega’ decision

Health care district approves first-ever mega grant to fund mobile health unit that will serve worksites within district's region

Kings Sierra Health Care District Board Members Suzanne Johnson (left), Jim Fixel (middle), and Bruce Hunter (right) discuss agenda topics. (Kenny Goodman)
Kings Sierra Health Care District Board Members Suzanne Johnson (left), Jim Fixel (middle), and Bruce Hunter (right) discuss agenda topics. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published February 29, 2024  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – For the first time in its history, the Sierra Kings Health Care District (SKHCD) Board approved a mega grant in the amount of $60,000 to support the development of a mobile health project in conjunction with Valley Regional Occupational Program (VROP).

Not only that, VROP will match SKHCD’s contribution with another $60,000 grant.

“This is an exciting, exciting program I am thrilled to introduce to you today,” SKHCD CEO Chinayera Black-Hardaman said at the Board’s Feb. 27 meeting. “Please recall that your board, through RFPs (requests for proposals), offers general grants that are typically $25,000 or less. Mini grants that are typically $5,000 or less.”

She continued, “More recently your board has been talking about whether there is a chance for us to do more. A larger project. We talked about it in terms of a mega grant.”

The $120,000 will go towards the purchase of a mobile health trailer. The trailer will be deployed at worksites, such as fields and packing houses. 

VROP students training to become medical assistants or certified nursing assistants (CNAs) will work alongside a healthcare professional to provide medical screenings and other basic medical services to farmworkers. The money will also be used to fund internships for students.

SKHCD Board member Jim Fixel immediately warmed to the idea of a mega grant.

Gabriella Bravo, Executive Assistant for Sierra Kings Health Care District, listens to comments from the public. (Kenny Goodman)

“Little grants do little work. This will be a big grant that does big work,” he said.

VROP Superintendent Fabrizio Lofaro said the work experience is invaluable.

“One thing that is very important to me is to give the work experience to the students,” he said. “It is very important they have that approach of being able to work with potential patients. These are students; they are learning, and we are really a vessel to pass information.”

He continued, “There are so many opportunities here, so many communities and so many different programs. We want to be that vessel to them while providing some basic screening.”

WORKING OUT THE LOGISTICS

Black-Hardaman and Lofaro acknowledged the logistics of starting the program will be extensive. There must be coordination among employers, employees, healthcare professionals and VROP students.

Sierra Kings Health Care District Board Members (left) discuss possible grant opportunities with Fabrizio Lofaro, Superintendent of Valley ROP. (Kenny Goodman)

“That will be something that will happen in the next six to nine months, to build those relationships and start one at a time,” Lofaro said. “The vision is to incorporate many different services. Building that employer relationship is going to take some time.”

Black-Hardaman echoed his sentiments. She said part of the relationship building will require helping employers understand how it benefits them to have healthy employees.

“We are in an era where employers understand how important it is to have healthy employees that show up and are able to perform,” she said. “Sometimes this will be working with employers to help them understand why this is valuable to their employees and valuable to their business. There’ll definitely be some education and some partnerships where they see the value to their bottom line. That’s what employers care about.”

Black-Hardaman told the Board that SKHCD’s half of the partnership would be to purchase the trailer; VROP would be responsible for all costs after the program is up and running.

“What VROP would be doing is affording the other half of the mobile and all of the operations,” she said. “They (VROP) would pay for the ongoing operation of this project after your initial investment.”

Board member Suzanne Johnson was concerned about jurisdiction.

“If we’re in a mobile unit, will we be going outside of these districts?,” Johnson said. “I feel I am responsible for the people in my district in making sure that the monies are being spent within the perimeter of the tax base.”

Black-Hardaman assured her that, as with any SKHCD grant, all money would have to be used legally within the District boundaries, which encompasses roughly 247,000 acres of southeastern Fresno County.

Fixel asked if the mobile unit could be deployed to more remote areas, such as Yokuts Valley. Not wanting to put the cart before the horse, Black-Hardaman reminded the members that this would be a pilot program and that there is tremendous need locally for the services the mobile unit can provide.

“The District is fertile in terms of our target population,” Black-Hardaman said. “Agricultural laborers. There is a saturation inside our target population this program would help. That’s why it’s called a pilot. We figure out how to grow it. By partnering with some of the healthcare systems in the community. By finding other underserved populations to target. The opportunities for growth are numerous.”

She said the marriage between providing healthcare to farmworkers and giving students real-time work experience is a perfect union.

“We’re growing some of our own while helping to take care of some of our own,” she said.

SKHCD receives approximately $500,000 annually in ad valorem taxes. An ad valorem tax is a tax based on the assessed value of an item, such as real estate or personal property. The District also receives about $1.1 million annually from its lease with Adventist Health.

Darren Fraser
Reporter