The numbers are quite staggering. Though Health First is known in the area for its world-class hospitals and clinicians, fitness and rehabilitation centers and various medical clinics, few know how much the health care and insurance provider invests back in community support. It totaled over $171 million in fiscal year 2018, which includes charity and uncompensated care.
When it comes to ensuring health care is accessible to all of Brevard’s residents, the life-saving and life- changing impact of Health First is far more about deeds than words.
Careful Aim to Ensure Measurable Outcomes
With the same thoughtful preparation and foresight that goes into medical treatment, Health First, a Brevard- based not-for-profit organization, does an in-depth Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) in collaboration with the Space Coast Health Foundation. The CHNA provides a comprehensive analysis of widely-accepted health indicators that identify health disparities for each demographic area served by their respective facilities. This data serves as the foundation for developing implementation strategies that often include partnerships with community organizations in creating initiatives to address health needs.
Michael Seeley, the president of the Health First Foundation, also oversees the Community Benefit department of Health First. He spoke of his initial foray into the world of healthcare administration in California and how agonizing it was dealing with families who were having to make care decisions based on the ability to pay. “Because of what I saw, we grew our own non-profit for our 50+ provider practice,” he said. “My fondest memories of that time in my career was what we were able to do for those disadvantaged individuals and families to get the care and services they needed. Years later, when this position opened, it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made. To be around a thoughtfully structured approach to address critical needs and shortfalls is so rewarding.”
Investments in community support programs like Who We Play For. This remarkable program began back in 2007 on the goal line of a Cocoa Beach High School soccer field, when 15-year-old student athlete Rafe Maccarone went into sudden cardiac arrest, following a warm- up routine before the beginning of practice. The community was shocked when this young man, who passed all his sports physicals, died the next day from heart disease, stricken while playing the sport he loved most. Recognizing the condition was detectable with screening electrocardiograms (EKG), Who We Play For was launched.
Health First has been a partner with Who We Play For since 2016, screening more than 2,000 students in Brevard County. During that first year, a 17-year-old cheerleader from a local high school suffered and survived sudden cardiac arrest while training for cheer tryouts. The student and her family became champions of the cause to create awareness about sudden cardiac arrest. About a year later, at her high school, her best friend was screened. The EKG revealed a potentially life- threatening heart condition and she was successfully treated. A few months later, three members of the student’s family were identified with the same, hereditary heart condition.
One of the most impactful programs that Health First partners with is the Brevard Health Alliance (BHA), which is Brevard County’s only Federally Qualified Health Center. Since March of 2005, BHA has provided extensive primary health care services to residents regardless of their ability to pay. By offering services on a sliding-fee scale, BHA services include pediatrics, behavioral health, dental services, diagnostic services, resource management services, medication assistance and specialty referrals to Brevard County’s economically disadvantaged residents.
BHA operates seven fixed clinics in Palm Bay, Malabar, Port St. John, Rockledge, Melbourne and Titusville, along with their principal clinic on Sarno Road in Melbourne. BHA also operates Mobile Health Units to provide professional medical and dental care to Brevard’s residents “where they are” – on the streets, in shelters, at soup kitchens and at drop-in centers. According to their website,
“We currently provide services to approximately 2,500 Brevard County citizens that present as homeless.”
The Community Health Needs Assessment, identifies the priority areas that Health First will address and the strategies they will use. “The most successful Community Benefit programs around the country identify areas where a tangible difference can be made, and we identified two,” Seeley said.
“The first, was access to health care, when it is needed, where it is needed, regardless of the ability to pay. The second was overweight/ obesity, poor nutrition and/or lack of physical activity and its relationship to chronic diseases, especially at the pediatric level.”
The second area of focus has led to a partnership with the Brevard Public Schools, to enhance their physical education programs for middle schools with the purchase of new gym equipment. Health First has also partnered with the United Way of Brevard in supporting the Health First Mayors’ Fitness Challenge for the past three years. This community- wide initiative encourages mayors of Brevard County’s municipalities to get their residents moving and adopt a healthier lifestyle. This year, there were 2,445 participants and eleven municipalities participating with the City of Cocoa Beach receiving the award for “Most Fit City.”
In addition, a Great Weight-off competition for adults was held to recognize the male and female participant losing the largest percentage of their body weight during the competition. The female winner from Palm Bay announced that the Challenge inspired her to start eating more sensibly, resulting in losing 41.8 pounds or 16% of her body weight in just 8 weeks. She stated that she is about halfway to her goal and winning this competition has given her an added incentive.
To help develop healthy lifestyles among our most vulnerable communities, Health First supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and The Children’s Hunger Project. Every day after school and all summer long, Boys and Girls Clubs provide a safe and caring experience for children between the ages of 6 and 18 from the region’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, at no or little cost to their families. “At Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, we believe that every child, regardless of income or life circumstance, should be empowered to excel in school, become good citizens and lead healthy, productive lives,” their website states.
Childhood hunger leads to a weaker immune system, difficulty in learning and paying attention in class, along with being able to behave properly to retain what they learn. In addition, hungry kids are sick more often and have lower academic achievement. In Brevard over 50 percent of students qualify for a reduced-price meal program, and Brevard Public Schools works valiantly to provide both a healthy breakfast and lunch for those who need it. The Children’s Hunger Project is a Brevard-based program that works to see students through the weekend, by providing weekend meals that students can take home in backpacks.
Through Health First’s giving back initiatives and partnerships, these programs and the services are able to impact families and individuals across the county, every day. It helps to level the field in terms of access to essential medical services and not only provides care to the sick, it helps to improve the wellness and health of everyone in Brevard.