The Chase 2023: Big Ideas Build a Legacy of Compassionate Care
Words by Barbara Kerr
Health equity is health care.
That visionary theme echoed across the Palm Springs Convention Center on March 25, as nearly 1,000 guests gathered for 2023’s The Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards (AKA The Chase), the annual gala and fundraiser — presented this year by Eisenhower Health — that has raised millions of dollars to support DAP Health and the people it serves.
From platinum sponsor Amazon’s Big Ideas Cocktail Party inside the convention center to the vibrant celebration in the outdoor plaza, gala co-chairs and DAP Health Board Members Kevin Bass, Lauri Kibby, and Scott Nevins created an evening to “inspire guests to think more boldly about the future of wellness throughout the Coachella Valley.”
The vision resonated in the humor and energy of Obie, Drama Desk, and Lucille Lortel Award winner Michael Urie (of the current Apple TV+ hit series “Shrinking”), returning for his second year as emcee, and in the dynamic headlining performance of Emmy and Golden Globe winner Darren Criss (of “Glee” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” TV fame).
Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk and Obie winner Saycon Sengbloh opened the evening with a stirring performance of “Rise Up.” Broadway and television performer Nick Adams inspired the crowd by reminding them that “This Is the Moment.”
When We See Lack, We Act
Throughout the evening, speakers noted the striking parallels between the challenges of 1984, when the organization originally known as Desert AIDS Project was founded, and the issues facing DAP Health, the region, and the country today.
DAP Health CEO David Brinkman said, “Despite our immense progress over the last 39 years, 2023 feels a helluva lot like 1984. There are currently 300 anti-LGBTQ bills in various stages of passage in this country — many of them attempting to prevent trans youth from living authentically.”
He then noted: “Of our 50 states, 35 restrict abortion to varying degrees, robbing women of the right to make decisions affecting their own body. And in our own back yard, 120,000 patients dependent on the Borrego Health system were on the verge of losing their access to health care.”
But, he added, “When we see lack, we act. It’s in our DNA. So DAP Health is again stepping up — forming an alliance with fellow health centers Innercare and Neighborhood Healthcare — to guarantee lifesaving continued access by acquiring Borrego Health.”
The new alliance will provide health care for 120,000 men, women, and children. From San Diego to the Salton Sea, 600 physicians and staff will care for patients in disciplines from obstetrics and gerontology to HIV prevention and treatment.
Honoring Visionary Partners
A leader in the fashion industry’s fight against HIV/AIDS, design icon and philanthropist Donna Karan was the recipient of the 2023 DAP Health Equity Award. She is the founder of Urban Zen, a lifestyle brand and philanthropic foundation that collaborates with existing organizations to enhance spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.
“Nobody gets away without being sick,” Karan said, accepting the award. “Each and every one of us will be that person one day. The question is: Who’s going to take care of us?” She added: “Those people who care for us are the most important people in the world. We need the ‘care’ in health care. And this organization understands that.”
Dr. Raul Ruiz, the U.S. Representative for California’s 25th District, presented the 2023 DAP Health Humanitarian Award to Desert Healthcare District & Foundation CEO Dr. Conrado E. Bárzaga and the organization’s board of directors. He praised Dr. Bárzaga for his “innovative thinking and inspiring leadership.”
Ruiz told The Chase audience: “Dr. Bárzaga believes health care requires thinking outside the box. He believes in taking a patient-centered approach to address the social determinants of health and to create 21st-century solutions for 21st-century problems.”
Dr. Bárzaga praised DAP Health for “advancing the notion that health care is not only human care, but a human right.” He then noted that “DAP implemented a wonderful equity framework when no one knew what equity was.” Finally, he observed, “Equity in health care is giving everyone a fair chance at being healthy, and we do this by removing barriers. By making access to health care possible. Because this is what DAP Health does and that is what we at the Desert Healthcare District are doing.”
As Dr. Bárzaga reminded the audience: “We are working to dismantle systems that have neglected the people upon whose backs the wealth of the Coachella Valley is created. We are working toward building a health care infrastructure and a health care workforce that are inclusive. That uplift those who have historically been at a disadvantage: the sexual, racial, and ethnic minorities. We are working toward a Coachella Valley we all can call home — not because we are included — but because we belong.”
Health Care Is...
“There are so many factors that affect a person’s health — starting with housing, mental health, food insecurity,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of presenting sponsor Eisenhower Health Ken Wheat. “DAP Health has been and continues to be critical to our community in addressing health care on all of these levels.”
Gala Co-Chair and DAP Health Board Member Scott Nevins noted he is also a patient at DAP Health. “When I was in my 20s, living in New York City, just starting out in show business, I couldn’t afford health insurance, and my options for health care were free clinics and programs that were often bleak and unsettling,” he said. “So, when I discovered DAP Health, and saw firsthand the quality of the services that were provided within an inviting, friendly, and stigma-free environment, I felt like I was home.”
A Life-changing Journey
Born in El Salvador, Marcela Quintanilla was raised in Palm Springs. Being gay, she said, “It was hard to fit in.” She added: “I did not know how to deal with it, how to cope with life. I found drugs and alcohol. And it really, really took me into a deep, dark place.”
A friend told her about DAP Health. “He told me that you will get help and not be judged,” she said. At DAP Health, she found support and a new life. “I attended the substance abuse groups that really set the ground for my recovery.” Quintanilla also received treatment for HIV, and attended substance abuse groups. DAP Health staff members helped her obtain food vouchers and medical insurance.
And they helped her through her transition.
“I think they saw the real person in me, and they really wanted me to be happy,” she said. “They wanted me to be who I always wanted to be.”
Today, with a growing career as a hairdresser, she says she has a good life. “It was because a lot of people believed in me,” she said.
Turning a Mess Into a Message
Damian Calmett is also a patient at DAP Health. A former entertainer — “a gorgeous girl with wigs and lashes, singing in clubs” — he once upon a time helped raise money for Desert AIDS Project.
“I had hidden the fact that I was HIV-positive for almost three decades,” he told The Chase guests. “I kept that a secret because of the shame, the stigma. When I came to DAP Health, I had spiraled out of control. I was homeless. I had lost everything. But because of the compassionate care, I was able to take a mess and turn it into a message of hope, a message of strength.
Today, he is Rev. Dr. Damian Calmett, senior minister of Innerfaith Ministries Worldwide, located in Palm Springs. He is also the front desk coordinator at DAP Health. “I want people to know that they’re valuable,” he said. “That when you walk in the doors, you are important.” He added: “When I touch somebody and their life has changed — and they’re able to turn their life around — you’re the ones that have been able to do that because you invested in me.”
The experiences of Quintanilla and Calmett reminded guests this was the moment to demonstrate their belief in supporting life-changing journeys.
The Chase 2023 raised $1.4 million to invest in DAP Health and its clients.
Community With a Capital C
DAP Health CEO David Brinkman has noted that “I work with so many people who were not born and raised in this community, and came here from larger towns, and one of the things they really cherish is the small size of this community and how, when we all work together, we can solve social issues.”
As he told the audience at The Chase 2023, “You are very special to all of us at DAP Health, and particularly to the thousands of people we care for. Because without you, there would be no Chase. Without you, there would be no DAP Health. This organization is — always has been, and always will be — very much about community with a capital C.”
He added: “You’ve shown us your heart and your commitment. No matter the call, you step forward when you hear it. No matter who’s being targeted, scapegoated, left behind, or denied, you shout: ‘Not in my community!’”
Brinkman reminded guests that everyone is welcome at DAP Health.
“We know that y’all means all,” he said. “We know that women’s rights are not negotiable. We know that Black lives matter. And we say gay!”
“Quite simply,” he concluded, “we firmly believe no one is disposable in our community.”
And he thanked the crowd for their unwavering support. “When you give to DAP Health, you give not only to this community, but to yourself,” he said. “Because you are this community. And, as a thriving member of it, taking care of your neighbor is in your DNA as well.”
Thanks with a Capital T
The Chase 2023 was made possible through the generous support of presenting sponsor Eisenhower Health, platinum sponsor Amazon, Bobbi Lampros, AEG, Desert Care Network, The Desert Sun/Local IQ, DAP Health Board Chair Patrick Jordan, Barry Manilow and Garry Kief, Harold Matzner, NBC Palm Springs, and Steve Tobin and Johnny Krupa of the Grace Helen Spearman Charitable Foundation.
Brad and Lynne Toles of Savoury’s, alongside their kitchen and front-of-house staff, provided the delicious food, beverages, and service. DJ Modgirl (aka Kellee McQuinn) amped up the excitement at the Big Ideas Cocktail Party and the afterparty.