Marking Five Years of Community-Led Health Equity Solutions: Palm Health Foundation Reveals Impact of Healthier Together Initiative

Resident-led movements in six Palm Beach County communities lay 
the foundation for unifying residents during 2020’s racial justice and pandemic challenges.

 

 

West Palm Beach, Fla. – Palm Health Foundation is marking the five-year anniversary of its first Healthier Together communities with an expansive look-back at the initiative’s achievements and extensive learning since 2015. A new website, HealthierTogetherPBC.org, and a comprehensive paper, A Shared Purpose, Transforming Communities Through the Social Determinants of Health, provide the public with an inside look at how the foundation became the county’s most advanced organization for focusing on community-led health equity solutions where residents with the greatest disparities are part of the process.

 

The catalyst for embarking on Healthier Together was the growing evidence that a person’s ZIP Code could influence his health outcomes more than his genetic code.  The social determinants of health—health-related behaviors, socioeconomic factors and environmental factors that are estimated to account for 80-90 percent to healthy outcomes for a population—became the focus.  For Palm Health Foundation, it represented a departure from short-term funding in systems to long-term investing in communities and a shift from healthcare to health.  Putting resident leaders in positions of power to guide the solutions voiced by the community also gave the foundation deep insight into creating greater health equity.

 

“The best way to explain Healthier Together is that it puts residents at the core of developing health solutions around their own needs rather than force-fitting a system that doesn’t always recognize the complexity, culture, context and circumstances of diverse communities,” said Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation. “When you start to see health issues through the eyes of the people who live in a vulnerable community, you realize the barriers and inequities that exist won’t be overcome through traditional clinical care systems.”

 

Palm Health Foundation’s funding commitment to-date includes a $1 million investment over five years in each of the six Healthier Together communities in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, the Glades, Jupiter, Lake Worth Beach and northern West Palm Beach/Riviera Beach.  Funding supports a project director, activities and local mini-grants/sponsorship investments. As each community developed a steering committee of local residents and narrowed its focus from one of the foundation’s three priority areas—behavioral health, diabetes and family caregiving—they learned how to advocate, develop community-wide networks and seek greater health equity that resulted in a wide variety of achievements and policy changes, including the following:

 

Racial Equity
Healthier Delray Beach incorporated a two-day training by the Racial Equity Institute (REI) into its community work, which was later adopted by all Healthier Together communities. Palm Health Foundation paid for close to 600 county residents to take the training and was instrumental in creating the Organizing Against Racism Palm Beach County Alliance, designed to generate opportunities to grow racial justice specifically for the county’s Black communities, and challenge institutionally-based racist practices in health systems and beyond. With the learning from REI, Healthier Together communities were able to host valuable community conversations following the murder of George Floyd, bringing their residents together in a time of need.

 

Healthier Neighbors, recognized for its ability to lead change, is facilitating and helping to implement the health component of The Mayor’s Village Initiative, a City of West Palm Beach effort to prevent and reduce youth violence and improve outcomes for young African American males 25 years old and younger living in three neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by violence, crime, and social/ economic disadvantages. 

 

COVID-19 Response
Palm Health Foundation deployed its “SenseMaker Story Collection Project” through Healthier Together communities, amassing over 700 stories about how COVID-19 has impacted the lives of Palm Beach County residents. Stories aid in providing relief to those with urgent needs through the foundation’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund and are used as a data collection tool for current and future community health planning. The story collection inspired the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum to create a virtual gallery exhibit sharing the community’s collective COVID-19 experience.

 

Healthier Boynton Beach’s mission, “to inspire, support and improve the lives of caregivers in Boynton Beach,” was put to the test during COVID-19.  The supportive networks developed among family caregivers and resources were stretched, but they quickly pivoted to create a new online community to promote social connectedness.  Offline, they linked the caregivers with resources and support for themselves and their loved ones at home.
Social Determinants of Health

 

Healthier Lake Worth Beach residents, tired of the poor condition of their neighborhoods in the south end, defined its behavioral health mission as: “To improve the cleanliness, environment and safety of Lake Worth Beach neighborhoods and promote healthy behaviors that impact the overall health and well-being of our residents.” It became a mission that influenced policies and funding, including the city’s first-ever Adopt-A-Street program, neighborhood crime watches and a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Justice to reduce violent crime.

 

Resident-Led Change
Healthier Jupiter introduced “mini-grants”—small grants of up to $2,500 to fund ideas from residents and small nonprofits for supporting healthy eating, physical activity and access to care.  Residents were invited to vote on the winners—at times reaching up to 400 attendees—making it a completely nontraditional and truly resident-led grant-funding process. One example is Palm Beach Harvest, a food rescue organization, that received funding for a community garden to help feed children at a pre-school that served a minority population. 

 

Behavioral Health
Healthier Delray Beach introduced the national program Mental Health First Aid throughout the city, influencing the Delray Beach Police Department to institutionalize the training for all officers. The training was a catalyst for the next step the department took—hiring their first full-time licensed behavioral health professional. The chief of police retains a close connection to Healthier Delray Beach as a steering committee member.

 

Healthier Glades focuses on behavioral health for residents to thrive physically, emotionally and spiritually. The initiative paved the way for launching Open Table, a national model that brings together faith organizations, government, business, healthcare, non-profit and other sectors to help individuals and families experiencing poverty.
 
“The most rewarding part of Healthier Together is seeing resident leaders thrive as they create community networks and a culture for health that respects the needs of their neighbors,” said McNamara. “The work isn’t easy, and it’s often complex, but we have created an environment where community members can try new, nontraditional approaches in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment to narrow health disparities.  We’re taking risks together to create a movement for better health and greater equity by listening to residents. They know better than anyone how to create change that lasts.”
 
 
About Palm Health Foundation 
Palm Health Foundation is Palm Beach County’s community foundation for health. With the support of donors and a focus on results, the foundation builds strong community partnerships, respects diverse opinions, advocates for its most vulnerable neighbors and inspires innovative solutions to lead change for better health now and for generations to come. The foundation supports health equity for Palm Beach County residents of all backgrounds, heritage, education, incomes and states of well-being. Palm Health Foundation has invested more than $83 million in Palm Beach County health since 2001. For more information about Palm Health Foundation, visit palmhealthfoundation.org or call (561) 833-6333.