ST. PETERSBURG — The foundation created by the sale of Bayfront Medical Center carried out its first major charitable act Thursday, awarding $4 million in grants to community groups working to improve public health.
The 19 recipients included the Pinellas County School District, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Mount Zion Human Services, and the USF Research Foundation.
"This gives us stable financial footing to do work in the community that will produce lasting change," said Susan McGrath of the Florida Consumer Action Network, which won $172,371 to develop a healthy transit initiative and promote healthy lifestyles.
Thursday's announcement marked an important milestone for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, which until 2015 was known as the Bayfront Health Education and Research Organization.
Foundation board chairman Steve Dupré dubbed it "the starting line."
"We are not running a 100-meter sprint," Dupré said. "If I had to describe the race we're running, it's a double marathon with a relay where we will continually pass the baton to the next generation."
The foundation was created in 2013, when the not-for-profit Bayfront Medical Center was sold to a for-profit hospital chain. The profits from the sale were used to seed a charitable organization that could carry out Bayfront's longtime mission.
The concept was not unique. Experts say there are about 400 so-called "health conversion foundations" in the United States. They must spend at least 5 percent of their assets on charity annually.
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, which has a $170 million endowment, owns a 20 percent stake in the for-profit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
The organization kept a low profile for several years. CEO Randy Russell said board members needed to wrap up outstanding hospital business and chart a course for charitable work.
The board ultimately decided to focus on the social factors that affect health — income, employment, education and access to care, among them — and form partnerships to improve outcomes.
Russell was hired in March 2015. A few months later, he and his colleagues held a half-dozen "listening sessions" across Pinellas County to better understand the health needs of the community.
Attendees at each session ticked off the barriers to healthy living, including budget concerns, transportation and a lack of safe places for families to exercise.
They made another important point, Russell recalled.
"The community very clearly said: Stop spending millions of dollars without talking to us," he said.
In the fall, the foundation asked attendees and community leaders to submit ideas that could help people live healthier lives. The final tally topped 200, Russell said.
Later, the foundation had five reviewers comb through all of the submissions and choose the best ones. The creators of those 47 ideas were invited to apply for grant money.
The largest grant went to the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. The $495,151 award will expand the Community Resource Bus program, which is run in partnership with the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Police Department. The three agencies use the bus to link people to community services and resources.
The grant will also help county health officials conduct a large-scale survey. The goal, spokeswoman Maggie Hall said, is to create a "true picture of the health of people in Pinellas County."
The Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative, a nonprofit that focuses on advocacy, wellness and health equity, received $130,000 to hold workshops that will help local providers become more racially, ethnically and culturally competent. The year-long training program is also intended to spark a dialogue about race and racism.
Carrie Hepburn, the collaborative's executive director, said she was excited to team up with the foundation.
"They definitely talk the talk and walk the walk," she said. "Our project is an example of their willingness to go outside of the box."
Russell said he was "delighted, honored and privileged" to engage the foundation's new "grant-funded partners."
Moving forward, he said, the foundation plans to hold brainstorming sessions to generate new solutions to public-health problems. The foundation may also consider awarding longer-term grants.
"Transformation is not only possible," he said, "it's imminent."
Contact Kathleen McGrory at email@example.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.