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Health Foundation Of South Florida Has New Leadership, And New Care Programs To Fund

Loreen Chant & Melida Akiti.jpg
The Health Foundation of South Florida
Loreen Chant, left, is the new president and chief executive officer of the Health Foundation of South Florida, the first woman to lead the organization in the 28 years since it started, and Melida Akiti is the foundation board's first Black and Latina chairperson.

The South Florida Health Foundation has about a $162 million endowment to help fund its decades-long work to make health care more equal and accessible to low income people.

Now it has new leadership to carry out its work, including a new president and chief executive officer, Loreen Chant, who comes to the foundation from Easterseals South Florida. When she starts March 1, she’ll be the first woman to lead the foundation since it started 28 years ago.

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The foundation's board also has its first Black and Latina chairperson, Melida Akiti, vice president of ambulatory and community services at Memorial Healthcare System in Broward.

They spoke with WLRN’s Verónica Zaragovia.

Here is an excerpt of their conversation which has been edited for clarity.

WLRN: At WLRN, we recently covered funding you've done of COVID-19 testing in Latino and black neighborhoods in South Florida. What can you share about future initiatives you'll be working on at the foundation?

MELIDA AKITI: Eighty percent of an individual's illness has social determinants around it, their housing, their access, their jobs, only 20% really is in the four walls. The average length of stay [in a hospital] is maybe 3.5 or five days. What happens with that individual after they leave the hospital? Where are they going to be going? What house ... do they have grocery stores in their neighborhood? We have to look at health beyond those four walls.

That is something Memorial has been doing, working with the Health Foundation. We actually got a grant from the Foundation for Legal Services. Why would we have legal services at Memorial in the primary care? Because if the person is evicted, the person is not able to secure health. If a person is having a social security problem, they are not able to access health. So we have legal services paid by by the Health Foundation — [to] actually have a conversation with the landlord, send letters to the landlord. And that is what we are calling the social determinants of health, the things that socially affects me that doesn't have nothing to do with the four walls of the hospital.

Not only that, but the Health Foundation [is] also financially involved in getting, in paying individuals to help the community be able to access the ACA, or Affordable Care Act, or like everybody knows it as Obamacare. [The Biden Administration has announced a special enrollment period for plans under the Affordable Care Act on the federal exchange, which will be from Feb. 15 to May 15 and accessible to qualifying Floridians based on income. The foundation is funding some of the help to get people signed up.]

And just to clarify, Melida, you're talking about navigators who are people who are designated under the Affordable Care Act to help people sign up for health insurance?

AKITI: Exactly. We will be funding navigators to be able to go out there and go out in the community. So our job is to be able to get individuals that will explain to them how to enroll.

And Loreen, what projects are you looking forward to?

LOREEN CHANT: Melida mentioned the legal-medical partnership. That's a pilot with Baptist and Memorial. We're also involved in a pilot project right now down in Homestead looking at creating the IT infrastructure to connect social services into the hospital care system. Because it's one thing for someone to make a referral to a resource that would be helpful, whether it's access to food, like she said, legal services. But really knowing, having someone track that and making sure that the referral translated into that action is really important.

So I think has been some of our most interesting work. I also shared that we are looking at ways to bring innovation and maybe information technology. And there might be a business, a small business that has a really effective software idea and they might come to the Health Foundation ... that might be a business that the Health Foundation would choose to invest in.

So that's actually extremely new, it's part of Melida and my tenure to really determine what's the best way for the Health Foundation to do impact investing in a way that improves the health of the communities.