We are pleased to announce that Dr. Gary Barth joins the Healthcare Foundation Board of Directors this month. Gary is one of four new board members, including Montserrat Archila and Daisy Cardenas, who we profiled in a recent edition of our newsletter, and Marc Kahn, who we’ll introduce in next month’s edition.
Gary’s involvement with the Healthcare Foundation began in 2021 as a principal sponsor of our Gala. He has subsequently become a Healthcare Hero, although for many years now Gary has been quietly putting the Healthcare Foundation’s mission into action through his medical practice, both in northern Sonoma County and around the world. As an ophthalmologist, he has devoted the better part of his life to helping people worldwide improve their vision, heal from diseases of the eye, and go on with their lives secure in the gift of sight.
Gary did his academic training at Williams College, USC Medical Center, Oregon Health Sciences Center, and the University of California San Francisco Medical School. He played a central role in the development of a world-class ophthalmology community in the North Bay, helping to found the Eye Bank of Sonoma, Pacific Laser Eye Center, 4th Street Laser Surgery Center, and the Eye Care Institute. In 2020, he moved his practice to Healdsburg, allowing rural clients greater access to his services.
Gary has been the recipient of many local and national awards in recognition of his professional expertise and humanitarian service in Sonoma County and Southeast Asia in particular. He spent his junior semester of college studying in India, which was during the war between India and Pakistan, partaking in many silent meditation classes, all of which had a significant impact, informing his life since then. He and his wife of 43 years live in Santa Rosa.
Gary spoke to us recently about what attracted him to the Healthcare Foundation, and his hopes for the region he has called home since 1983.
“There were several things that made me take note of the Healthcare Foundation’s work here in northern Sonoma County. For nine years I was involved with a group called the Foundation for Medical Care. I was on the board, and in addition to some time serving as president I was the head of the grant-giving committee for a number of years. We covered a region that included northern Sonoma County, giving out starter grants for one- or two-year projects. It attracted people in the community who, for example, found out that they had a problem with teenage diabetes and that there was really no care for that, and they wanted to develop access to education and dietitians and other resources. These healthcare advocates or organizers could apply for grants to get those ideas started, with the expectation that after a year or two it could have some legs on its own. I really appreciated that chance to hear from the community, to hear what they needed.
“The granting program completed at a certain point, but that experience left me with this really enticing idea—that people in a community know well what they need to make their lives better or to make the lives of others’ in their community better. So when I set up a practice in Healdsburg, I noticed what the Healthcare Foundation was doing, and it reminded me of that—of the ability to collect reasonable amounts of money and direct it to people in the community who want to make an effort.
“The other part of the attraction to the Healthcare Foundation had to do with the fact that I served a lot in India and Cambodia and Nepal, where I got to see what local effort did with minimal medical resources—how communities could amplify the medical resources that were available. That international experience showed me that in collaboration with the community you could extend much needed medical resources by leaving the community with people who were trained to deliver them. You could take someone who never got the chance at a four-year degree but had some skills and interest and they could get some training.
“I was also quite involved for a while with several women’s self-help groups in India. It was always fascinating to work with women who couldn’t read or write but who through training could start doing double-entry bookkeeping, and then could start a bicycle repair shop with donations from other women in the community. Pretty soon that bicycle repair shop would pay off, and someone else would buy a papadum-making machine, and that would pay off, and so on. It was great to watch people who never expected themselves to be going to banks and getting loans or expected themselves to learn bookkeeping but who find that with friends and neighbors they could help each other. I found a little of that spirit in the Healthcare Foundation, in the Mental Health Talent Pipeline, which tells aspiring young professionals, ‘We want you to stay in Sonoma County and we can help you get the skills you are seeking.’”
“And maybe by doing that we can help prevent this place from becoming an Aspen or Vale—they’re unique cities but they have troubles, they struggle with economic diversity. Sonoma County certainly could go that way but it struck me that the Healthcare Foundation was a little ballast against that. It reaches out to people here who are bilingual and bicultural and says, ‘You’re really valuable, and we can help you with an education if you’ll stay in Sonoma County. You’ll have a job and be a vital part of this community.’ And maybe their kids will stay here, too. So I also saw that.
“Those are my three biggest influences attracting me to The Healthcare Foundation and to service on the board: my grant committee experience, seeing how people can come up with really good ideas for their own community; my overseas experience, seeing how people in the women’s self-help groups could take the germ of an idea and develop it to their benefit and the benefit of the community as a whole; and, finally, seeing in both those contexts as well as the Healthcare Foundation’s Mental Health Talent Pipeline how you could keep some diversity by directing money to the people who want to stay here and support the health and wellbeing their community, and who maybe could stay here if they could go to school without acquiring a big debt.
“I’m confident we can build on all of these aspects. Northern Sonoma County is a real community. Its volunteer base is like no other. There is a spirit here that pulls us together, even before the fires. I appreciate that we’re a community that looks after each other.”