Celebrating Older Americans Month
S. E. Williams
Arthur Forbes came of age during a time when African Americans confidently looked within its own community for leadership to help chart a way forward out of the dark and specious oppression of the Jim Crow era toward the promise of full citizenship most effectively exercised through community involvement.
When Forbes and his family established residency in the Inland Empire he immersed himself in the community both professionally and personally. The community in response, embraced him and welcomed his passion, commitment, brilliance and leadership.
Forbes was knowledgeable, capable, willing and determined to make a difference. It was as if leadership was programmed into the fabric of his being and he leveraged it for the benefit of those in need. The impact of many of the initiatives he championed were significant and in some instances continue to benefit the community today.
May is Older Americans Month and what better time to celebrate the life, contributions and legacy of octogenarian, Arthur J. Forbes Sr. than to publically acknowledge his contributions.
In 1958 Forbes earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Education from one of the state’s most prestigious centers of higher learning— the University of California at Berkeley and subsequently earned a Master’s Degree in Urban Institutions and Systems from the Claremont Graduate School. Professionally, Forbes spent much of his career in health care administration and community relations.
Over the years, Forbes successfully leveraged his education and professional expertise to champion issues of importance not only to the African American community but to disadvantaged residents of the Inland Empire at large.
Forbes used his know-how to lead and advise on issues of importance; he engaged others in the process and willingly led by example. He put in the hard work necessary particularly in relation to creating opportunities for at-risk youth. He fought for job training; worked to assure students had access to school counselors that understood and responded to their needs; and advocated for more minority teachers, counselors and administrators. He forged relationships between the church community and local leaders; he served as chairman of the Fontana YMCA and set aggressive fund raising goals for the organization; he was at the forefront of exploring the application of computerized research techniques to social problem solving; he fought to maintain the credibility of the local urban league; and of particular significance, he was the founding Executive Director of the Inland Empire Community Health Center.
During a time when access to health care for African Americans and other underserved communities was at a premium, the Inland Empire Community Health Center (IECHC) in Bloomington made those services available to them. For more than twenty years now, the center has served women (and families) in the communities of Bloomington, Fontana, Colton and Rialto.
When IECHC opened its doors in 1986 it provided PAP smears, birth control, family planning, pregnancy testing, breast exams and other female health services along with primary medical care. Today, services offered by the center are expanded. They include family practice, internal medicine, optometry, dentistry, pediatric healthcare, women’s health services including OB/GYN and family planning, children and adult immunizations, physicals and more.
The fact IECHC is able to provide these much needed services today are rooted in the advocacy and leadership facilitated by Arthur Forbes decades earlier.
As reported in the July 9, 1986 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun, when IECHC opened its doors in June 1985, it was in essence the expansion of an existing clinic at the Bloomington location that already offered some health care to women mixed in with other services. In the publication Forbes explained, “The clinic came about as a result of the concerns and interests of two female gynecologists there who thought female patients respond more readily to female doctors.”
In the beginning, according to Forbes, the clinic not only offered a variety of services it used a sliding fee scale that allowed the fees to be adjusted according to the patient’s ability to pay. The clinic also accepted Medi-Cal and Medicare in addition to private insurance.
Before the facility enhanced its service offerings as the IECHC, it operated for fourteen years (1970 to 1984) under the stewardship of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital. Forbes spent a large part of his professional career as an Administrator for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. This background coupled with his previous experience as a Community Relations Representative with Kaiser Steel and his high profile involvement in the Inland Empire community made Forbes a natural choice for his eventual appointment to the position of Executive Director of the health care facility.
Forbes was intimately familiar with the needs of the inland region and understood the limitations under which the clinic operated while the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan was at its helm. “At Kaiser only a certain number of low-income people could be serviced at one time because it was a membership organization,” he explained.
For this reason and because there was a growing need for a community based health care facility, it made sense when the federal government decided it wanted a free-standing community health center where anyone could come at any time. So beginning in 1984, the government provided some initial funding for program planning as a first step in the transition process. Subsequently, in 1985 the government provided more than $400,000 in grant funding for staff salaries, the building, equipment and supplies—the rest is history. From 1984 to 1994, initially as Planning Advisor and ultimately as Executive Director, Forbes laid a foundation for success that has sustained the facility for more than twenty years.
Forbes was an advocate for universal health care long before it became a popular political imperative. He understood that low income individuals and others without health insurance are left with very limited, if any health care options. Clinics like IECHC were and continue to be a critical part of the health care safety net system in the United States. Like IECHC, all are nonprofit and serve the uninsured either for free or a nominal charge.
According to a 2014 U.S. Medical Assistance Program report, even in the age of the Affordable Care Act there were over a thousand free clinics operating in 49 states. Together these clinics provide care for nearly two million people.
There is no question Forbes was a forerunner on a number of major issues of significant importance to members of the Inland Empire’s African American Community and others. He not only understood the importance of networking to achieve desired results, his goals and objectives were always targeted at improving the lives of the disadvantaged in the inland community.
His penchant for healing the community extended beyond issues related to the physical. In 1976 he became a licensed minister and was ordained a pastor in 1978—the same year he became pastor of the Riverside Christian Family Fellowship where he continues to serve.
Throughout his years of selfless service to others Forbes has enjoyed the unconditional support of his wife Gertherine; his children Arthur Jr., Catherine, Ronald and Thomas; his grandchildren Ashley, Ronald Jr., Tycie and Amber; and three great-grandchildren Kimani, Christian and Tylen.