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By Will Fritz
Staff Writer 

Health district puts tax dollars back into community through grant program


Last updated 6/4/2020 at 5:41am

It’s something that all but the best-informed Fallbrook residents may be unaware of.

But the Fallbrook Regional Health District has been giving grant money – close to a million dollars of it annually in recent years – to local nonprofits and some businesses to help improve the quality of life for residents of not only Fallbrook, but Bonsall, Rainbow and De Luz as well.

According to the district’s website, its Community Health Contracts program gives funding to registered nonprofits that can provide health services to residents of the district’s 110-square-mile service area. Commercial businesses are also eligible to apply for funds if they can demonstrate they have the ability to provide services not provided by any nonprofit.

It’s a program that dates back a little more than two decades, after the health district signed a contract with a private health care service provider to take over operation of Fallbrook Hospital. While it continued to be owned by the health district, the hospital would be operated by Community Health Systems for the rest of its existence, until it closed in 2014.

Rachel Mason, the current executive director of the Fallbrook Regional Health District, explained that after that contract was signed, the district began to reallocate some of its funding – which comes from a small percentage of local property taxes – to start a new grant program, as its funds would no longer go to pay for the hospital’s operating expenses.

“When Community Health Systems took over as the hospital operator … the district began to allocate much of the property tax it received into community health projects through our grant program,” Mason said. “We still supported some of the ancillary programming (at the hospital) that was around health and education, but we didn’t want to directly fund the hospital because that would be funding a for-profit corporation.”

It started off small enough, but the health district’s grant program went on to give out more than $5 million in grant funding between 2000 and 2014, according to records provided by the district.

Some of the programs funded over the years include support services for Fallbrook Union High School District students with Asperger’s syndrome and the “Care Van” for the Foundation for Senior Care, which offers free curbside transportation to local citizens.

“By providing grant funds for that Care Van, the health district is making sure our most vulnerable population has access to health care, retail, some social component,” Mason said. “Another example is we help support the Fallbrook Food Pantry, which right now is a critical, essential service for a lot of our population.”

Those are just a handful of examples.

The health district has used its revenue to fund grants for the Boys and Girls Club, the Trauma Intervention Program of San Diego – which provides trauma support for victims of evens like car accidents and fires – the REINS Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, Palomar Family Mental Health Services and much more.

Most of the rest of the district’s revenue goes to support things like Fallbrook’s urgent care center and the planned community health center, but the district over time has increased its funding for its grant program to the point where nearly half of its revenue goes back out to the community in the form of grants.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the health district plans to give away more than $1.2 million in grant funding.

And all that funding the district provides actually comes from just a small percentage of local property tax dollars. In San Diego County, special districts receive just 3.4% of property tax revenue. Most property tax funding goes to education as well as the county government.

“We receive a tiny fraction, and yet we’re extremely good at making sure that that fraction that comes to us goes directly into community health initiatives, and that’s what the grant funds do,” Mason said. “It’s unique, and it’s not something you see in most communities.”

In determining what programs to fund, the district looks at factors such as what ability a nonprofit or business has to provide an essential service, whether the service is already being provided somewhere else and whether the funding requested for the service is appropriate.

“One of the areas that we are really looking for is the statement of problem and the statement of needs,” Mason said of reviewing grant applications. “Explain why there is a need for this service in the community that’s not being addressed by others. You then define what your program does, how it meets this need and then what are the program’s goals and objectives.”

The district also keeps track of how grantees spend their funds.

“Each group that receives grant funding is required to provide us a quarterly report,” Mason said. “Obviously, we ask them to demonstrate fiscal responsibility – did they spend the money they got on the project they said they were going to?”

This year, the district has adopted a new reviewing process for the grants – two board members score each grant on a scale of 1-100. Applications with scores above 70 were recommended as eligible for funding, although things were competitive this year; applications with scores above 70 were requesting about $1.4 million, about $200,000 more than the amount the district has budgeted for grants.

All of the grants are reviewed and approved by the health district’s board of directors. The upcoming year’s grants will be voted on at the board’s June 10 meeting.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at [email protected]


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