In California, the Pivot from Access to Wellness Gains Steam

Making healthy choices has become something of a luxury in the United States. For many of our poorest communities, eating right and staying healthy are difficult—especially when you consider that buying two pounds of tomatoes at the grocery store costs roughly the same as it does to feed a family of four at McDonalds. Too often, the ability to live a healthy life requires some combination of educational, economic and social opportunities—access to which our most vulnerable populations categorically lack.

As home to the largest number of immigrants in the United States, as well as the largest self-identified Native American population in the country, California has its share of challenges regarding health equity. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act and a huge investment by funders, California has successfully reduced its uninsured rate substantially since 2013.


But coverage is just one piece of the puzzle, and in the wake of big progress on this crucial front, California health foundations have focused more resources on the next key healthcare battle: actually helping people get healthier. 

We've been reporting for a while now on this pivot among funders from access to well-being, and the range of strategies funders are using to push improved health. With its big health funders, and knack for being on the cutting edge, California is a great place to see the state of the action.  

Related: Up Next for Healthcare Philanthropy After the ACA Battle? We're Starting to Find Out

Last month, the California Wellness Foundation announced it would be closing out the first year of its Advancing Wellness program with 33 grants totaling $8 million in funding to improve healthcare outcomes for vulnerable communities, including a number of initiatives focused on the health and well-being of immigrants and Native Americans.

Beyond simply contributing funds to on-the-ground, direct-support programs serving immigrants, Cal Wellness is taking on immigration reform at the highest levels. With funding for the National Immigration Law Center, Cal Wellness is directing its influence to policymakers with support efforts to educate them on the health needs of immigrants and the importance of integration, legal status and citizenship.

“Although immigrants are a significant portion of California’s population, their quality of life is suffering, which is also limiting California’s social and economic progress,” said Fatima Angeles, Cal Wellness vice president of programs. “Now is the time to help them achieve healthy lives, which includes fully participating in community life and having a sense of belonging and purpose.”

Cal Wellness has also set it sights on California’s large Native American population—a community plagued by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and heightened risk of severe health problems, including asthma, heart disease and diabetes. With a grant to the California Rural Indian Health Board, Cal Wellness hopes to meet the specific health needs of urban and rural Native Americans through direct care, advocacy and outreach, and also continuing its work supporting culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare.

Related: A Push to Improve Food Choices in Native American Communities Gets a Big Boost

Citing research concluding that increasing the diversity of healthcare providers serving communities of color improves access and quality of care, Cal Wellness also hopes to strengthen the health professions pipeline for minority students. With a grant to the Physicians Medical Forum, Cal Wellness will support outreach efforts, academic assistance and scholarships for Native Americans and other minorities interested in pursuing health-related careers. We've reported before on what Cal Wellness is doing on this front, as well as on similar efforts by other foundations. 


Launched last October, the Advancing Wellness program established four focus areas and matching interconnected grant portfolios designed to promote equity through advocacy and access:

  • Bridging the Gaps in Access and Quality Care
  • Promoting Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods
  • Expanding Education and Employment Pathways
  • Opportunity Fund

Each portfolio takes into account the various social determinants of health in order to “level the playing field so that everyone has access to good-paying jobs, safe neighborhoods and quality health care services.”

Related: The California Wellness Foundation: Grants for Public Health