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Advancing Community wellness in the Coachella Valley

Donna Craig reflects on 20 years with the Desert Healthcare District & Foundation

Donna Craig with microphone in hand faces a seated audience during the 2024 data walk.
On June 20, 2024, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation recognized the 20th anniversary of Donna Craig, Chief Program Officer. Craig shares in the interview below her experience and a few of the highlights she was a part of during her two decades with the agency.

Twenty years is a significant amount of time to be in one job. When you started with the District, do you plan or foresee staying with it for that long?
No, I did not. Every day is different at the District and Foundation, so it’s amazing how time flies. Different CEOs and Board members bring challenges, ideas and initiatives for staff to implement.

What are the different job titles/positions you’ve held during the 20 years?
When I was hired, I was Executive Assistant to the CEO, who at that time was Wayne Soucy. Wayne recognized my experience in grant writing and we worked together to bring in grant funds to the Foundation to support the Desert Health Car, the Smile Factory, and the Wellness Park. Then, in 2005 the Chief Program Officer resigned and I applied for the position and was accepted. 

What are some of the biggest changes in healthcare you’ve seen during that time?
Some of the biggest changes were the implementation of the Affordable Care Act; how the healthcare industry rallied around the response to the pandemic that brought awareness to the role of public health; the increase in mental health diseases and substance abuse (the opioid epidemic); and the increasing need for a healthcare workforce, in particular nursing, primary care physicians, behavioral health therapists and psychiatrists. 

You’ve worked with many nonprofit organizations and leaders over the years. What do you want the Coachella Valley residents to know about our nonprofit community?
Our nonprofit community is the most compassionate of, and committed to, in making the Coachella Valley a healthy and livable place. They bring awareness of need to funders, individual donors, and public entities and endeavor to implement change.

For those in the community who may not know a lot about the District, what would you like them to know?
Since 1997, the District’s grantmaking program was always about the unserved, underserved and uninsured. Due to the limitations of the imposed boundaries, the District board and staff were limited, sometimes, as to where taxpayers’ dollars could be granted out. However, due to some innovative and strategic thinking, the Desert Healthcare Foundation was able to support those organizations outside of the District boundaries, serving residents of the eastern Coachella Valley way before the boundary was expanded in 2018 to include the entire Coachella Valley.

You have provided guidance and contributed to many programs supported by the Healthcare District during the past 20 years, from health insurance enrollment to the mobile dental services. Which programs make you the proudest?
Under the leadership of some great CEOs, the District not only developed and incubated its own programs but also partnered and supported programs developed by the valley’s nonprofit community.

Examples of District and Foundation incubated and developed programs are Health Eating/Active Living which led to Project Produce; the West Valley Homeless Initiative in response to the closure of Roy’s Desert Resource Center; the investment in the new UCR School of Medicine and the 5-year Family Practice Residency Program; the repurposing of the Foundation to what was then spun off to become HARC; the development of the Desert Hot Springs Health and Wellness Center that contributed to reducing the severe shortage of primary care physicians; advancement of stroke care at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Desert Regional Medical Center; and the recognition of “growing your own local healthcare workforce” by partnering with OneFuture Coachella Valley in the development of a healthcare scholarship program.

What’s the biggest misperception about our grants that you’d like to address?
Our grants are just that…grants.  Our grants are not donations or contributions but are contracts with organizations to address the delivery of healthcare services with funding to improve the health of Coachella Valley residents that are impactful and measurable.

What’s the most challenging part of being Chief Program Officer?
It’s challenging that we are limited to California law AB 2019 which prohibits staff from advanced meetings with organizations to discuss possible avenues for project or program funding. This can only be attained after the organization has directly submitted an application then conversations can begin.

What’s the most fun or rewarding part?
Site visits are great! I like to say that a site visit is worth a thousand words. Seeing your funding in action and making an impact makes it all worthwhile.