Public health

Health Foundation of South Florida invests in partnerships for healthy communities

Traditional healthcare policy long has emphasized the role of physicians, hospitals and other clinical providers in ensuring good public health.

Now a South Florida nonprofit is making a multimillion-dollar investment in Little Havana and Miami Gardens that may improve the health of residents through non-clinical factors, such as personal behavior and social and economic opportunities.

“Health occurs literally every place you walk and sit in your day,’’ said Steven Marcus, president of the Health Foundation of South Florida, a nonprofit that funds public health initiatives in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In December, the Health Foundation announced awards of as much as $7.5 million over the next six years for the city of Miami Gardens and for the Little Havana neighborhood to identify and support programs that engage residents in their own healthcare, such as nutrition and exercise, and that build partnerships with physicians and clinics that emphasize preventive care.

The program, called the Healthy Community Partnerships Initiative, will be unlike any other in the Health Foundation’s 20-year history, said Loreen Chant, vice chair of the board and president of Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami campus.

Chant said the program calls for the Health Foundation to work with Miami Gardens city officials and representatives of ConnectFamilias, a nonprofit agency leading the Little Havana effort, to identify and prioritize each community’s healthcare needs.

“What Little Havana decides will be important in terms of a priority area may look very different from what the city of Miami Gardens is going to identify,’’ she said.

Health Foundation will help residents of those communities identify existing programs or create new ones that address their most pressing healthcare needs, Chant said. The foundation also will provide administrative and technical support, such as vetting proposals and groups that apply for grants, and developing metrics to evaluate success.

“So Health Foundation doesn’t simply give funding out, and leave an organization to itself to figure out how to be successful with the grants they receive,’’ she said.

Collaboration among residents and other stakeholders in a community is a central tenet of the Health Foundation’s work, whether it’s partnering with area primary-care physicians to increase access to preventive medicine, or working with local schools to teach children and their parents about nutrition, said Richard Laviña, board chairman and regional president of HSBC Bank.

“The basic role of the foundation is healthcare-related sustainable social investment. That’s the way I view it,’’ he said. “It doesn’t work if everybody isn’t involved.’’

Since its inception in 1993, the Health Foundation has awarded more than $104 million in grants to 330 organizations to support community health programs in South Florida.

The foundation was created 20 years ago as a successor to the Cedars Foundation, which raised donations for community health programs through the former Cedars Medical Center, now University of Miami Hospital.

In 1993, the Cedars Foundation formed a partnership with private hospital companies Columbia/HCA to manage and co-own the medical center. The foundation changed its name to the current iteration, and focused on funding community nonprofit health programs.

In 2001, the Health Foundation sold its minority interest in Cedars Healthcare Group, which owned the medical center, and divested itself of ownership in healthcare facilities.

Since then, the group’s leadership has focused the Health Foundation’s efforts on specific areas, including primary care, behavioral health, preventive health and programs that promote good nutrition and regular physical activity — funding priorities that receive about 80 percent of grants.

The Health Foundation also funds strategic initiatives that can take two to seven years, including programs to promote healthy aging, school fitness and nursing through scholarships.

“You just can’t address health problems in one population or one ethnic group,’’ Marcus said. “You have to apply different methods and different approaches to different populations.’’

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