Co-Creating Community Change

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Established in 2015 under another name, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (FHSP) is a relatively young organization serving Pinellas County, Fla. But its focus and mission—“to improve the health and well-being of our community through initiatives that create sustainable, long-term improvements to quality of life”—have their roots in the 15-bed clinic built in 1906 to serve as St. Petersburg’s first centralized health care facility.

Over a century, the clinic grew and expanded into Bayfront Health Systems, a not-for-profit that provided many millions of dollars in charity care annually while providing the highest quality health care and contributing to St. Petersburg’s economic development. The eventual sale of substantially all of the assets of the hospital and its related health care facilities led to the creation of Bayfront Health Education and Research Organization, Inc., which, in 2015, was renamed the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Inc. and converted from a public charity to a private health foundation.

Today FHSP has more than $180 million to fund its mission and is the largest grant making foundation in St. Petersburg.

Community Engagement Advocate Delquanda Turner Smith has been with the Foundation for nearly four years and is focused on Capacity Building Strategy. We sat down with her to talk about FHSP’s work in health equity in Pinellas County.

First question, how does the Foundation define health equity?
Health equity is the attainment of the highest level of health for all people, free of avoidable and unfair differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or by other means. We believe that every person, family and community deserve a fair opportunity to live a long and healthy life, regardless of race, ethnicity, income level or gender identification. There’s a great video on our site to explain our focus on health equity in Pinellas County. And there’s also in-depth information about the reality of living in Pinellas County 

What does health inequity look like?
Much of our community’s health is rooted in systems and policies built on a foundation of inequality. From one zip code to another, people live dramatically different lives. And often health, life expectancy and opportunities for success are divided along the lines of race, income, disability, gender and other factors. Inequity looks like living in poor zip codes, with food insecurity, and not being able to obtain a quality education; people with underlying health conditions not having access to medical care due to a lack of insurance and not having access to medication—maybe even not knowing they need medication. Inequity results in poor nutrition and less-than-ideal mental, physical, even oral health as well as unemployment or underemployment and a lack of access to affordable housing.

And how does the Foundation work to support health equity?
The Foundation’s aim is to advance health equity in south Pinellas County, especially within those groups that have experienced major obstacles to health and well-being due to social or structural barriers such as racial discrimination.

We use a social determinants of health framework to improve population health and achieve equitable health outcomes throughout the county. Social determinants are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age as well as the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of their daily lives.

We work to raise community awareness about health equity—what it means, why it matters and how we can work together to achieve it. By paying attention to the root causes of inequality in our community, we’re able to target investments, convening, policy and communications work where they can have the greatest impact.

What specific actions does the Foundation take to promote health equity?
We’ve commissioned research and data collection and analysis, but the reports are no good sitting on a shelf. So we invest in our community. We want to leave a legacy of a more vibrant nonprofit sector.

We’ve transitioned from a competitive grant process to an investment process. We work with grassroots nonprofits, those smaller organizations that are doing phenomenal work in the community and touching some of the most at risk members of our community through the services they’re providing. When we pair support of organizational infrastructure and provide individual and organizational development support, the nonprofits are better able to scale up and provide services to those in need.

 We also talk to other funders and foundations; we want to be more collective and collaborative: “Let’s be strategic as funders in our community; if we bring those dollars together, we can have great impact.”

Our vision is co-creation of change; the Foundation doesn’t create change “for” or “at” people and organizations, but with them.

Talk a bit more about the Foundation’s approach to co-creation.
This work is not easy and cannot be done alone or in a vacuum; we’re supporting solutions co-created with the people who live here and across multiple sectors, solutions in a social context.

Our Center for Health Equity, which opened in Fall of 2019, is a place for creating that positive change.

We believe everyone has ideas and experiences that can contribute meaningfully to improving our community, but we often only hear from voices that sound like our own.

The Center for Health Equity is a space that brings an unexpected combination of people together to build a healthier and more equitable Pinellas County. The opportunities and obstacles around health are affected by nearly every part of our community, and if we want to untangle these complex issues, we must work across industries and organizations.

Because change only happens when we take action.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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