Florida health systems working to address Black maternal health, food insecurities


Shane Ersland


Healthcare professionals are working to improve Black maternal health, curb food insecurities, and provide financial assistance for housing to address the social needs of Floridians.

They discussed these initiatives at the Florida State of Reform Health Policy Conference on Thursday. Health Foundation of South Florida President and CEO Loreen Chant said the foundation recently issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity to address health disparities related to Black maternal health, access to care, and chronic disease in the local community.


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“We went to build a sustainable model that would be funded beyond our grant dollars, so we put it out, and waited,” Chant said. “At the end of the day, we got over 30 proposals, and we selected five. We chose those five on the basis of who the partners were. We wound up partnering with the health systems because we thought that would be the most sustainable, high-impact way to address maternal health disparities.”

The foundation chose to fund the Black Maternal Health Equity Collaborative in Broward County, Black maternal health projects, Jackson Health System, the Southern Justice Network, a Black birthing center at a YWCA, and a collaborative in the Florida Keys for initiatives to address disparities. 

“Those have been funded to the tune of about $3 million,” Chant said. “We needed to provide the technical assistance, the funding, and the time to put the projects together.”

Lisa Bell, director of community benefits at BayCare Health System, noted that the Affordable Care Act requires all nonprofit hospitals to conduct a community health needs assessment every three years.

“One of the things we were forced to really look at (were) all of those social drivers, and how they impact health outcomes,” Bell said.

BayCare decided to focus on addressing food insecurities, Bell said. All of the not-for-profit health systems in the local four-county region and the departments of health there worked together to form the All4HealthFL Collaborative

“In that collaborative, we do all our health needs assessment work together,” Bell said. “The data is so incredibly rich. We need to understand in the foundations of our work that place matters. That your zip code is a better determination of your health outcome than your genetic code.”

The collaborative distributed a health needs assessment survey in 2019, and received over 20,000 responses. The survey asked community members questions related to access to healthcare, mental health, food insecurity, and overall health and well-being. Based on the success of the 2019 survey, the collaborative issued another survey in 2022. And despite challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, that survey brought in over 14,000 responses, Bell said.

The collaborative recorded data from the surveys, and developed implementation strategies to address the community’s needs, Bell said. 

“Those implementation strategies needed to be impactful, evidence-based, and really measurable,” she said. “So a lot of the work we do at BayCare now is 100% embedded in metrics. I put out about $45 million annually to community partners who do the work better than we can. We can do a lot of really good things, but we depend on our community.”

BayCare is now working to address mental health, substance misuse, access to health, social services, coping strategies, and exercise nutrition, Bell said. Its two primary focuses, however, are on chronic disease and food insecurity.

“We’ve stepped very boldly into food insecurity,” she said. “We are now the only system in the region asking every single patient about food insecurity. And we do something about it. We send patients home with healing bags, two or three days [worth] of nonperishable food, and a bunch of additional resources to help connect that patient once they leave the hospital. We’re giving out about 1,300 a month across the region, [and we’ve] probably provided in the neighborhood of 17,000 so far.”

Daniel Rowinsky, lead attorney for the Medical Legal Partnership Project at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., discussed some ways in which he helps patients. He said one 62-year-old patient suffered from congestive heart failure, and was about to be evicted from her house when he began working with her. 

“We were able to apply for a loan,” Rowinsky said. “We were able to get her $30,000 to pay back the landlord. It took almost a year to get all those things [done], but when we helped her, it changed her perspective on life. In the beginning, she was extremely anguished about her situation, and at the end she was very hopeful of her future because she got all these opportunities, all this stability.”