Sunday, June 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: Working together for a healthier community

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a new voice in south Pinellas County, and it is intended to be a transformative one. Our mission is to better improve the health and well-being of our community through initiatives that create sustainable, effective improvements to the quality and quantity of life.

Who are we? Why does it matter that our work has begun? What will change?

THE FOUNDATION SUPPORTS AND STRENGTHENS OUR COMMUNITY PARTNERS. This week, through $3.9 million in grants to our community, we begin one of the foundation's primary roles, which is to support our collective efforts to bring health equity to all our residents regardless of gender, race, age, economic status, geography, physical ability or preferred language. The funds were generated from the 2013 sale of Bayfront Medical Center, when the hospital converted from a nonprofit to a for-profit. The IRS required the charitable component of the former hospital to continue, which it will do in perpetuity with this private foundation.

We operate on a fundamental principle — access to and achievement of complete health depends on the wisdom and knowledge of the systems already engaged in this work.

THE FOUNDATION IS ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE AT ITS CORE. The fair and equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and privilege within a society or population is one of the foundation's primary areas of focus. Privilege comes by birth; as does stigma. Gender, color, class, ability and nurturing create degrees of privilege that are direct but also surreptitious. Privilege both impels and impedes opportunity. Is it really true that class trumps race because money intoxicates bigotry? Is ZIP code more important than genetic code? One thing is certain: Groups of people who are stigmatized or ignored (perhaps worse), who lack all of the concomitants of social justice, are less healthy. For us to achieve any substantial improvements in population health, we must direct our work, and discipline our efforts, to the linchpin of social justice.

THE FOUNDATION IS ABOUT COMPREHENSIVE, COLLABORATIVE, TRANSFORMATIVE LEADERSHIP. Rarely do complex problems or challenges related to populations or systems present themselves discretely or reach the tipping point of change with one entity's focus. Rather, transformational change requires a multisector, multifaceted, co-created approach. Communities, government, businesses, nonprofits, faith-based entities, funders, universities and/or hospitals all have roles in improving population health.

Alone — we are each a single hand clapping. Collectively — we are an orchestra. By gathering ourselves, and our efforts, to a shared purpose we will arrive at a better, heftier and more sustainable transformation of both people and place. History shows this is not easy and requires practice together, building trust, support and comfort with the process.

Across all sectors, from neighborhood to neighborhood, there is great capacity and even greater potential throughout southern Pinellas County. As I've listened to the community throughout my first year, you spoke loud and clear: Collaborative leadership will solve big problems. Such change, however, requires not just will, but wherewithal. The engagement of the community, the scale of the nonprofit, the willingness to collaborate, the attention of the governmental entity, the data to inform and the advocacy required to focus attention — all require time. The foundation understands this and is here to help — providing resources both to imagine and to implement.

THE FOUNDATION IS ABOUT STEWARDSHIP. As stewards of funds that must be used in the community's best interest, and with the public's trust, the foundation's role (and responsibility) in southern Pinellas County is unique and privileged. And it is this seriousness of purpose, and the urgency and possibility of "now," that humbles us, guides us and emboldens us.

We will not succeed if we do not transform ownership and accountability, our ways of thinking, our ways of doing, our systems, and our structural impediments to health and well-being in ways that fully engage the community, private and social sectors and the public. Such transformation will require risk, courage, effort, collaboration, open-mindedness and rigor.

Scattered attention will continue to be the enemy of success. Our world is filled with distraction. It clutters; it constrains; it depletes. Therefore, the foundation has a critical role to play. We can mind. We can inform. We can galvanize. We can prod. We can provide resources and the space to realize opportunity.

Privilege is a descriptive noun — but it is also a verb. If you have privilege, by race, gender, wealth, role, as a public servant — how are you going to use your privilege to join the transformation? We ask of all of us — be the active verb of privilege to benefit the full health of our population.

Randall H. Russell is the president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

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