Santa Clara County leaders are moving forward with the idea of building a Latino health and wellness center.

After an emotional budget debate on Tuesday last week, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved having county employees come back in June with options for how to proceed with a facility and whether there should be multiple locations. Supervisors want community input and won’t make a final decision until the Latino Health Needs Assessment collects data from residents on health access gaps countywide.

“I don’t want to predetermine a product or outcome,” Supervisor Sylvia Arenas said at the meeting. “When you go through a process with the community, you learn so much more about that community than you think you know.”

While focused on Latino health, the idea drew widespread support in nearly 100 public comments from Black, Asian and Latino residents and patient health advocates, such as Latinas Contra Cancer.

Darcie Green, executive director of Latinas Contra Cancer, said the public turnout blew her away.

“Hospitals and clinics belong to the community, so it is powerful to see this incredible display of solidarity pushing our county delivery system to better serve Spanish speakers,” Green told San José Spotlight.

Arenas has spearheaded the ongoing needs assessment, an overdue countywide effort to get feedback from Latino residents on what health services are lacking in the region.

Arenas’ stance at times ran into friction with Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who introduced the health center proposal with the intent to redevelop and expand services at the busy Valley Health Center East Valley. Chavez, who recalled the misdiagnosis of her father at the clinic and his death shortly after, said the clinic doesn’t meet the needs of the patients it serves. She argued this kind of investment would protect health services in East San Jose in light of the upcoming closure of heart attack, stroke and trauma services at Regional Medical Center.

“We cannot leave services at the East Valley Clinic in the current state they’re in — no matter what the health assessment says,” Chavez said. “It’s our second busiest clinic.”

Chavez and Arenas agreed that the need to redevelop the clinic and the community-driven vision for a health center shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. The idea of studying both concepts was incorporated into the board’s approval.

Officials may draw inspiration from facilities like the Vietnamese American Services Center, which opened its doors in fall 2021 as the county’s first fully integrated service model. The county conducted a similar needs assessment for that community to bridge health disparities. The 37,000-square-foot, three-story building at 2410 Senter Rd. in San Jose was built after eight years of community outreach. It serves as a one-stop hub for integrated and culturally informed social and health services.

Options for a Latino health center may include the renovation, lease or redevelopment of county properties or facilities.

A win for Latinx community

Board President Susan Ellenberg called it a win for Latino residents.

“It was a long, thoughtful discussion, but ended on the side of the community. They deserve what they need, not what we think they need,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight.

Latinos in Silicon Valley are facing exacerbated quality of life challenges in the wake of the pandemic, including education gaps, worsening housing conditions and health disparities, according to the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley’s 2023 Latino Report Card.

Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, hailed the decision for a Latino health center and the push to hear from residents first.

“I think it’s right where the county should be focusing on. It’s a cultural approach to a system that often feels like a one size fits all model,” she told San José Spotlight. “We know that culture does play a role.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San José Spotlight.