Eliminating Health Disparities
The UF Health Urban Health Alliance works to create access and opportunities for better community health.
UF Health Jacksonville continually works to support the local community and improve the health of its residents. Part of that mission is to better understand and work toward eliminating disparities that stand in the way of achieving health equity.
In 2019, leaders from UF Health Jacksonville and the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville established the UF Health Urban Health Alliance, or UHA, which seeks to bring organizations and individuals together to help create community-initiated, self-sustainable strategies and solutions.
The committee who manage UHA initiatives include:
- Lori Bilello, PhD, MBA, MHS, associate director of the Urban Health Alliance
- Ross Jones, MD, MPH, medical director of the Total Care Clinic and Urban Health Alliance
- Ann-Marie Knight, vice president of Community Engagement and chief diversity officer at UF Health Jacksonville
- William Livingood, PhD, adjunct associate professor of the office of research affairs
- Fern Webb, PhD, director of research of the department of community health and family medicine
Improving Health Outcomes with Four Pillars
Health equity means ensuring everyone is able to achieve their best health. With this approach, support is tailored to individual needs and accounts for health disparities that may cause certain groups to be more disadvantaged than others.
Achieving health equity involves educating and empowering residents, leveraging the right combination of research-supported resources and programs and, in some cases, changing dated policies that are rooted in structural racism. This is why UHA aligns its work with four main pillars: service, education, research and policy. Combining these four areas creates a well-rounded approach to improving health outcomes.
- Through service, UHA can identify and implement programs that help address social service needs.
- With education and training, UHA can empower residents to proactively improve their own health outcomes.
- By conducting and supporting innovative research, UHA can better understand the needs of the community and offer a more tailored approach.
- And with that research, UHA can provide empirical evidence to create and modify policies affecting population health.
“Oftentimes, a person may be clouded by life’s challenges and barriers and may have difficulty knowing where to turn,” Jones said. “Our goal is to not only provide resources, but to also support those needs through encouragement and dignity.”
Creating Access and Opportunity
UHA has developed innovative programs to bolster community awareness and, ultimately, foster greater health equity.
Its Food Pharmacy offers UF Health Total Care Clinic – Jacksonville patients, who meet certain requirements, access to foods tailored to their health needs. Additionally, patients will have the opportunity to attend cooking and nutrition classes.
However, other factors in addition to nutrition can affect health, including unstable living conditions, finances and transportation. The alliance is launching a Social Services Hub to address these factors.
The hub is a one-stop shop for patients who need support locating housing, finding jobs, earning a GED and much more. The space is designed to host patient/provider interactions through virtual or in-person meetings. The providers are agencies that offer resources specifically aligned with a patient’s needs. On-site staff will serve in concierge-type roles to ensure each patient is guided toward their own success.
The Food Pharmacy and Social Services Hub will open June 4 with a special ribbon-cutting event.
“Both initiatives have game-changing potential. We can’t simply hand off our patients and hope they make it through the maze of resources and jargon,” Knight said. “If we are going to eliminate health disparities, we must be intimately involved in understanding and facilitating success.”
Outside of these programs, UHA participates in special events and collaborates with other agencies that align with its mission. One such event helped residents of the Brentwood community understand their resources and responsibilities to ensure continued stable housing. Another event was the fall food drive in late 2020 that invited employees to donate food items that were given to residents in need.
Last year, UHA provided COVID-19 testing for nearly 2,000 underserved residents. For those efforts, the Jacksonville Business Journal recognized UF Health Jacksonville with its inaugural Community Impact Award.
While all of this work is novel, the Total Care Clinic has provided stellar care for a complex population of patients for many years. This long-standing work was recently awarded the Florida Blue Foundation Sapphire Award for health equity.
“We look forward to continuing to support our patients and taking that support to the next level through a focus on social determinants that influence health and health outcomes,” Jones said.
As UHA works toward its mission to improve the health of the community, support is always welcome. UHA is looking for ambassadors to spread the news about available programs. “Citizen scientists” will be trained to help develop research questions and further support the various initiatives.
Email UHA@jax.ufl.edu for more information.