Friday, October 5, 2018
ACHD Advocate September 2018 | Trustee Spotlight: Vanessa Poster, Trustee, Beach Cities Health District

Below is an article conducted by ACHD, Association of California Health Districts:

In an effort to show our appreciation to Healthcare District Leaders, ACHD highlights the invaluable contributions of Trustees in their community.  We recognize that the work and passion of our Trustees often go unrecognized and it is our goal is to share the positive impacts Trustees make in their communities.  

What inspired you to run for a seat on the Healthcare District Board?

When I ran for Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) for the first time in 1996, I had already been involved with BCHD through my work as Director of Development at South Bay Free Clinic. I knew all the great programs BCHD supported and when one of the incumbents was not running for re-election, I put my hat in the ring and decided that it was a great opportunity to conduct a serious campaign. I raised money, sent mailers and walked door-to-door throughout Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo Beach. I was inspired to connect one-on-one with voters. I learned first-hand the issues they cared about and helped raise awareness about the many great resources available through BCHD.

What is one accomplishment that you and the Board have implemented that you are most proud of?

The first, and most important, decision I was a part of at BCHD was the decision to close South Bay Hospital and transition our public agency to community-focused preventive health. This decision was made following numerous public hearings and after careful review of multiple competitive bids for the hospital building. It was a scary and exciting time. Ultimately, we chose to devote our financial resources to support a wide array of evidence-based health and wellness programs that meet community health needs across the entire lifespan. (

As part of the decision-making process around changing the focus of the district from sick care to prevention, I created and chaired our first Strategic Planning Committee. Through that committee, I have been able to stay current as the meaning of wellness evolves - including advocating to bring the nationally acclaimed Blue Zones Project to our community in 2010. This innovative project was born out of the research of National Geographic Explorer and Researcher Dan Buettner. He studied five areas of the world with the highest number of centenarians (called "Blue Zones"). The Blue Zones Project helps communities re-engineer the environments where we live, work, learn, and play in order to support longevity and make the healthy choice the easy choice. Since implementing the project in 2010, the Beach Cities has experienced dramatic declines in smoking and overweight as well as marked increases in exercise and well-being. These measurable outcomes propelled the Beach Cities to become the first "Blue Zones Certified Community" in California as well as earn the third highest well-being score in the country, according to the 2017 Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

One other accomplishment that makes me kvell (Yiddish for "beam with pride") is that BCHD has received recognition from the California and National Psychological Associations' Healthy Workplace of the Year Awards multiple times since we first applied in 2010. This is just one of many examples of BCHD leading by example and "walking our talk."

What is unique about your District and the constituents you serve? 

The Beach Cities are an affluent community in Los Angeles County. We have abundant resources, a perfect climate, the beach as our western boundary and excellent access to healthcare services. Data shows we're physically healthy compared to the rest of the state and country, but we aren't happy... stress levels among adults in the Beach Cities rival those recorded in post-Katrina New Orleans and Detroit during the Great Recession, according to Gallup.

Our youth population also struggles with mental health-related issues, including high rates of substance use, bullying and missing school due to anxiety, depression and not getting enough sleep. And, alarmingly, 16 percent of 11th graders report seriously contemplating suicide in the past 30 days.

Additionally, we have one of the fastest growing populations of older adults in LA County. By 2022, half of our residents are projected to be over the age of 55 - which presents a variety of health challenges, chief among them how we keep older adults living safely and independently in their community for as long as possible.

Using the collective impact model - a community-based framework to tackle deeply-entrenched and complex social issues - BCHD is working closely with local partners and subject-matter experts to actively develop and implement evidence-based programs that are specially tailored to each of these unique populations and areas of need.

What is a goal you hope to achieve for your District during your tenure?

Our vision for BCHD is "A Healthy Beach Community!" It is an all-encompassing effort that focuses on mental and physical wellness through accessible, community-focused programming, including:

  • Socially engaging activities that build community connections. For example, our Summer Free Fitness Series, where hundreds of residents of all ages gather each week to do Zumba in the park or mindful yoga on the beach.
  • Meaningful and vital services, including a team of geriatric social workers who go into the homes of hundreds of older adults to help them maintain independence through customized care plans and services (i.e. case management, errand assistance, in-home exercise, conversation companions, etc.)
  • Educational and active community facilities. BCHD owns and operates a low-cost community exercise center, which is in the process of becoming the only medically certified fitness center in California, as well as AdventurePlex, a family-focused facility devoted to helping kids of all ages play their way to better health.
  • Health-focused policy work with elected officials, including local and state representatives, who want to weave health and wellness into the fabric of public policies, including living streets, smoke-free environments, healthy schools, and more.
  • Activating a network of more than 1,000 community volunteers to help champion and drive more than 40 BCHD health programs and services in the Beach Cities.

My personal goal is to enhance the financial and institutional infrastructure of BCHD to maintain these and other cutting-edge programs in perpetuity and to continue innovating new evidence-based programs, services and facilities that will keep our population healthy and happy for decades to come.

One particular program that is close to my heart is "Live Well, Die Well." In November of 2015, my dear husband, Morgan Kramer, died of cancer. He went through 7 months of horrendous treatment and then 6-weeks of painful hospice before he died in my arms. That experience has reinforced for me that our goal as a Health District is not just to help our constituents live well but also to help ensure they die well with advanced directives in place. Helping people have these difficult but vitally important conversations with their loved ones is a health service. We can help all members of our community, whether or not they are currently experiencing health challenges, to make their wishes known ahead of time. When we can talk openly about death with peace in our hearts, then we can live more consciously and indeed, live well.  

How has being a part of ACHD helped you as a leader, your District, residents and the community?

I have served on the ACHD Board of Directors, the Advocacy Committee, the Education Committee and the Governance Committee and have derived great pleasure and benefit from interacting with other health district board members and staff from throughout the state. Learning new ideas, getting to tell people about what makes BCHD so special and speaking up for community-based districts has helped me to grow as an articulate and passionate leader.

What advice or encouragement would you give someone considering running for the Healthcare District Board?

Learn about the mission, vision and goals of your district and find your niche in terms of populations you care most about and service gaps in your community. Find your own passion, know the facts and just do it.

When not serving your community, what do you like to do in your free time?

I am passionate about my own fitness and love walking my dog by the beach, eating at all of the "Blue Zones" certified restaurants in my community (making the "healthy choice the easy choice") and attending outdoor concerts and plays. I am full of gratitude that I am dating an amazing man and that my 91-year-old father and I find laughter together every single day.

To view full ACHD Advocate article, click here.