We have a decision to make. We can choose to accept the dismal health status of Kern County or we can choose a healthier future. Today, Kern County’s health ranks 52nd of 57 California counties where data is available. We can do better.

It’s about your and your family’s health — not just the county rankings. Nothing is more foundational than health to securing all other blessings. Health is the gateway to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. And it is our responsibility to ensure future generations are not disadvantaged in this pursuit.

We can improve the health of Kern County if we choose to. As a former Air Force officer, I have lived in many communities — I’ve seen some communities accept the status quo and I’ve seen ones that have chosen a proactive path. I’ve seen communities improve their environment, upgrade their healthcare services and measurably improve their health.

We have an opportunity to begin this change on Nov. 8. We can vote Yes on Measure J, which will help rebuild and modernize the Kern Community College District campuses including Bakersfield College. Voting Yes on Measure J has the potential to transform our region and create a tipping point for generations to come. Here is how your vote will make a difference.

Bakersfield College plays a key role training our local healthcare workforce by graduating ready-to-work registered nurses, radiology technicians and other health professionals. To be prepared for the future and not the past, healthcare workers must be trained on up-to-date equipment and methods. Measure J will modernize and expand classrooms, labs, technology resources and equipment.

Investing in our future healthcare workforce is also good for our local economy. Healthcare is a recession-proof industry. Healthcare has grown more over the past 10 years than any other industry in Kern County and continues to add jobs year-over-year. Healthcare workers are paid well, which provides stable family environments and spurs economic growth.

Bakersfield College programs are also growing to meet Kern County’s health needs. New degrees in Public Health Sciences, Health Information Technology and Occupational Health Safety are being developed. These are all critical to improving the longterm health of our communities.

Your Yes vote on Measure J will also expand BC’s Veterans Resource Center at the Bakersfield and Delano campuses. Our returning patriots often face significant hurdles when they return from service.

Battlefield medicine has made leaps forward, saving many lives that would have been lost in the past, but this means many survivors face very tough roads ahead coping with physical, mental and emotional issues. The Veteran Resource Centers are there to help but they are woefully overcrowded.

Desmond Tutu once said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.” Measure J is our upstream opportunity. You can choose to invest in the health of our community and wellbeing of our veterans.

You can choose to vote Yes on Measure J.

The views expressed are those of David Womack as an individual, not Kaiser Permanente.

David Womack, a retired USAF colonel, is the senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente in Kern County.