mental health palm springs

Taking the Valley’s Temperature

The Coachella Valley faces challenges in physical and mental health that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, say healthcare experts in the 2nd webisode of "The Economic Future of the Coachella Valley".

JIM POWERS Current Digital, Health & Wellness, Vision, Watch & Listen - Vision

mental health palm springs

Desert Hot Springs’ unemployment rate has quadrupled since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in mid-March. While that jump from 6 percent to 24 percent is enough to raise eyebrows on its own, what is often lost in the equation is the health issue that ties into it.

“The social determinant of health, like in common employment and education, often have a much bigger impact on health outcomes than things like treatments, or your medications, or anything,” says Jenna LeComte-Hinely, CEO of Health Assessment and Research for Communities (HARC) in Palm Desert.

“It’s a huge deal,” she adds. “Anybody who’s been unemployed can tell you it’s so stressful worrying about whether or not you’re going to be able to pay the rent, or buy your food. Being that stressed all the time takes a toll on your physical health, as well as your mental health.”

LeComte-Hinely is one of three Coachella Valley experts who recently took the temperature of Greater Palm Springs’ health, medicine, and wellness during the second webisode of “The Economic Future of the Coachella Valley” series. Ken Wheat, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Eisenhower Health, and Kim Saruwatari, director of Riverside University Health System – Public Health, also participated.

The nine-part webinar series is a Palm Springs Life event in partnership with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and SBEMP Attorneys, and sponsored by Timo’s Air Conditioning and Heating.

• REGISTER: Webisode 3 and future discussions in the series, visit You can also view Webisode 1 on Tourism and Hospitality on the Palm Springs Life YouTube page.

Webisode 3 premieres at 2 p.m. Oct. 7 featuring Arts, Culture, and Entertainment. Valerie Powers Smith, partner and chair of Trusts, Estates & Probate and Special Needs and Elder Law departments at SBEMP law firm, moderates a discussion with Louis Grachos, executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum; Chris Mobley, CEO of Modernism Week, and Ron Celona, founding artistic director of CVRep.

LeComte-Hinely found the pandemic’s psychological stress has been felt disproportionately by people of color. Blacks, indigenous, and people of color have higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of difficulty sleeping. What those people indicate is their No 1 need are food banks, like FIND Food Bank in Indio, for enrichment. “You can’t be out enriching your health or the health of others if you don’t have enough to eat,” LeComte-Hinely says.”It goes for kids. You can’t learn in school if you’re thinking about your hunger.”

• READ NEXT: Tourism Faces Long Recovery Road in the Coachella Valley.

Many of those same families face bigger challenges for their children to do remote learning, says Saruwatari, noting 75 percent of the county’s population has an income of $35,000 or less. The lack of economic means spills over into mental well-being. Last year, Saruwatari says there were 47 overdoses for 15-to 24-year-olds. In 2020, there have already been 32.

Additionally, the county’s behavioral well-being program recorded a 16 percent increase in people seeking mental well-being or substance use treatment services, according to Saruwatari. And 20 percent of those people were from the desert region.

“I think really the big message is where people live, work, play, and learn really impacts their wellness,” Saruwatari says.

• VIDEO: View Webisode 2 on health, medicine and wellness.