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Camarillo Health Care District Wins innovation award for VR programming

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Michelle Rogers, the District's community outreach and education manager, and Mariana Gutierrez, health promotion coordinator, co-created the District's Adventures in VR program and co-facilitate classes.

District wins Innovative Program of the Year from CSDA

The Camarillo Health Care District has been awarded the 2023 Innovative Program of the Year Award for its “Adventures in VR” programming from the California Special Districts Association. This is the third time in eight years the District has received the accolade in the category of small district.

The award was presented to Kara Ralston, the District’s CEO, and Dr. Christopher Loh, board director, during the association’s Annual Conference in August 2023, with nearly 1,000 members in attendance.  

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Camarillo Health Care District CEO Kara Ralston and Dr. Christopher Loh, board director, accepted the award Aug. 30 at the CSDA's annual conference. 

After researching the emerging use of virtual reality in health care, in October 2022 the District launched “Adventures in VR,” teaching digital literacy and helping older adults get up to speed on the latest technology while having fun, meeting people and sharing experiences as a group. Since that time, more than 250 people have participated in virtual reality classes, with an age range of 22-94, and 96 percent responded in a survey that they “strongly” enjoyed the experience.

Studies have shown VR can improve quality of life and a sense of well-being in older adults by reducing loneliness, addressing depression and reducing barriers to socialization through common experiences, particularly important during re-emergence from the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the study “Impact of Virtual Reality Experience on Older Adults’ Well Being” published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Design and Management and MIT AgeLab, “VR is believed to be beneficial to older adults due to its immersive interaction capabilities.  Participants who used the VR system reported being less socially isolated, being less likely to show signs of depression, experiencing positive affects more frequently, and feeling better about their overall well-being.”

A tool for all ages, the District’s “Adventures in VR” program encourages participation by decreasing socio-economic barriers.  “As became evident during the recent pandemic, many households don't have access to connectivity and computer equipment, and older adults especially may lack confidence in utilizing computer equipment, let alone something called ‘virtual reality.’  This program eliminates those barriers and encourages trying something new,” Ralston said.

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Participants who used the VR system in one study reported being less socially isolated, being less likely to show signs of depression, experiencing positive affects more frequently, and feeling better about their overall well-being.

In “Adventures in VR,” Intermediate Level classes include the applications “BRINK Traveler,” “Wander,” AARP Innovations Lab-designed “Alcove” and “National Geographic Explore VR.” All of these applications include elements of virtual travel. For example, Wander and BRINK Traveler are 360-degree, immersive applications of specific locations, such as state and national parks, historic landmarks and cityscapes at true scale. Alcove features 360-degree immersive video and includes virtual hot-air balloon rides over the Swiss Alps and Kenya, guided bus tours in Tokyo, Dubai and other international cities, U.S. road trips by car, as well as exploration of major cities, historical landmarks and other locations around the world.

Adventures in VR participants begin at the required Introductory Level.  In the District’s Introductory Level classes, instructors show participants how to use the VR headset and hand controllers, and how to navigate the heads-up display. Participants use the application “First Steps” to become comfortable with the equipment through hands-on learning. Then they choose among three applications staff have deemed as Introductory Level: “Nature Treks,” “Ocean Rift” and “Guided Tai Chi.” Participants then advance to Intermediate Level, which includes travel adventures to dozens of destinations, as well as virtual scuba diving, brain-training exercises, and musical concerts.

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The District's VR class participants range in age from their 20s to 90s.

A post-experience conversation is facilitated so participants can share what they saw, experienced and felt, including if the experience lifted their mood, brought back memories or inspired them to try more adventures. Post-experience journaling is encouraged in a provided passport so participants can document their adventures.

A leader in collaborative health options, disease prevention and health promotion, the District won the CSDA’s Innovative Program of the Year Award in 2015 for its Adult Day Center and in 2019 for its “Partnership to Improve Transitions” collaborative with Gold Coast Health Plan.

CSDA was formed in 1969 to promote good governance and improve core local services through professional development, advocacy and other services for all types of independent special districts.

For more information about the District's "Adventures in Virtual Reality" classes, call 805-388-1952 or click here.  If you're new to VR, register for an introductory level class first to learn how to use the equipment. There are also "Independent Adventures" for anyone interested in exploring our VR apps on their own.

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