After 23 years of service to the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation, Board Director Mark Matthews is retiring. Matthews, who was first appointed to the Board in May 1997 and was elected to subsequent terms, informed fellow Directors over the weekend that he will not seek re-election in November.
"It's been a privilege to be part of it," Matthews said about his more than two decades on the Board. "We've been through a lot, up and down. I want to leave [knowing] I left it better than I found it every step of the way."
Matthews, who owns Wiefels and Sons Funeral Directors, is the longest serving member of the current Board. He joined it when the District's organizational structure changed from managing the nonprofit Desert Hospital (now Desert Regional Medical Center) to advancing health and wellness in the community as a grant-making public agency. With his vast business experience and knowledge, he was instrumental in negotiating Tenet's lease of the hospital from the District in 1997.
Matthews contributed to many of the District and Foundation's other major accomplishments in recent years, including the expansion of District boundaries east of Cook Street in 2018 to encompass the entire Coachella Valley, redrawing the District into seven zones, adding two Board seats bringing the total to seven seats, and the District's $2.6 million response to COVID-19.
"To say that we will miss Mark Matthews is an understatement," said Board President Leticia De Lara. "Mark's combined business acumen along with a great empathy for people in need of enhanced healthcare served the District and its constituents well.
"His legacy is established as a person who not only cared about the greater Coachella Valley community, but a person who could effect change for the betterment of its residents."
Matthews was an early proponent of the District expansion. "I think it's good for the greater community, and I think it is necessary for the east Coachella Valley," he said.
Matthews represents Zone 3, which includes parts of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells and La Quinta -- primarily the areas south of Highway 111 (See the map here).
His retirement clears the way for candidates from Zone 3 to seek election unchallenged by an incumbent. Anyone interested in running for the seat has until 5 p.m. August 12 to file a declaration of candidacy with the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at 2720 Gateway Drive, Riverside, CA 92507 (voteinfo.net). Nomination documents will also be available from Desert Healthcare District and Foundation Board Secretary Andrea Hayles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prior to joining the Board, Matthews ran the local Time Warner cable television company and served Desert Hospital in various capacities, including as chairman of the Hospital Operations Committee from 1987 until his appointment to the District Board. He also was president of Mizell Senior Center and served on the city of Palm Springs Planning Commission as well as the Association of California Healthcare Districts Board.
One of his proudest achievements has been his work on behalf of the District with the Desert AIDS Project. Matthews filled a lead role in helping the AIDS service organization obtain its home at Sunrise Way and Vista Chino in Palm Springs when AIDS was ravaging LGBTQ communities everywhere. He credits the gay men he worked with for educating him about the disease and the need for widespread community support. For his contributions, Matthews and the District were recognized with an award from Desert AIDS Project.
Matthews said his retirement was prompted by a possible move out of the District by the end of 2020 and timing.
"I'm winding down," he said. "My kids are running my business. I started to look around and realize, I think it's time for some new blood. I've enjoyed every minute. I think I've made a difference."