The average life expectancy in Riviera Beach, Florida, is 69 — compared to 81 overall in Palm Beach County. So when a private foundation, who chose to remain anonymous, wanted to do something related to health and asked how they could help the Riviera Beach community, Community Partners of South Florida (CPSFL) worked with residents to help figure out their priorities. CPSFL hosted a series of listening sessions to learn the history of health care in the community — and what the community wanted. The answer was clear.
"They wanted a clinic, to not have to go to the next city if they needed medical care," says Jaime-Lee Bradshaw, CPSFL's chief strategy officer. The network organization convened a group of residents to work as advisors, identifying plans and a health provider well-suited for the community.
They formed a strategy: So that residents could have access to health care sooner, they would start with a mobile health clinic. Then, with help from the city, construction would begin on a brick-and-mortar clinic.
And in the last days of March, FoundCare's new mobile clinic pulled up in front of CPSFL's building for the first time. The clinic, where medical staff will serve clients with and without health insurance, is there every Monday. On Tuesdays, it parks at a local community center, and on other days of the week, the mobile clinic parks at other Riviera Beach locations, serving as a bridge until the building opens in 2025. Organizers expect the clinic to see 300 to 400 patients per month, according to Kelly Powell, chief operating officer at CPSFL.
The residents who worked on the clinic — part of CPSFL's comprehensive community development work, which centers resident voices and involvement — attended NeighborWorks' Community Leadership Institute (CLI) in October last year, with a goal of focusing on health issues. Their intention now is to keep things going as the Riviera Beach Health Initiative, looking at more ways to improve health outcomes for residents.
Kerry-Ann Dixon became involved at the beginning stages. A nurse by training, she had been working at the health department and had seen the need for more local care for pregnant women in Riviera Beach, and for other patients as well. Many in the community were using the emergency room as primary care, she says, something her partner, who works for the Fire and Rescue Department, reinforced.
"I knew the issue," says Dixon. "It was access to health care. It's one of those things where you know
what the problem is, but how do you fix that problem? There were multiple layers at work. Access to food, access to dental, unemployment."
Dixon says that in her position on the CLI team, she was able to view the situation through multiple lenses. When she was 8, her family immigrated from Jamaica to Florida, and she grew up with limited access to health care. She remembers sitting for hours in a clinic waiting room. When people at Riviera Beach had to go to a clinic in neighboring communities, they would do the same. But hours waiting for the doctor meant hours away from work, and for many people, that wasn't an option.
"If you don't work, you don't get paid. You can't miss out on that money and if it's money or health, you've got to choose the money because if you don't, things spiral." But health can spiral out of control, too. "I know what it feels like," Dixon says. "That's not the answer."
Along with the clinic, Dixon's team is working with the American Heart Association to do health education. "It's incorporating education for the community and expanding it out from there," she says. "We're looking at the social determinants of health and we want to tackle everything. We're starting by looking at the resources we need assistance with and forming partnerships."
That includes areas like mental health, cardiovascular health, and diabetes.
A rendering of the permanent clinic, part of a plan in a community that centered resident voices.
"To see it all come together — it's just mind-blowing," says Dixon, who was nominated for a Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership
for her work. "This is the stuff you read about and to see it happening, to see the breaking down of those barriers, that's what it's about; it's about doing the right thing for what people need."
Says Powell, "The goal of our team is to address the social determinants of health to show that as their social needs are met, residents have better overall health outcomes. One large part of what we will be doing is collecting data to show positive health outcomes."
From the beginning, the clinic team wanted to be a voice for impact, and that desire grew with the project. "They realize they have something here, knowing how to advocate on behalf of residents. What they want is to create a legacy," Bradshaw says. CLI team members will also serve on the clinic's board.
Riviera Beach is a predominantly Black community of 9.66 square miles. More than 20% of residents have incomes below the federal poverty level and in some neighborhoods, it's as high as 48%. The clinic will start with primary care, but the goal is to expand to women's health care, dental care and mental health care.
NeighborWorks America's leaders say the work at CPSFL is a prime example of comprehensive community development, an approach to development that creates places of opportunity for all. The approach is community and data driven. A focus on residents is essential. "The work happening in Riviera Beach proves that residents know what they need, and that with the support of an organization like CPSFL, they can achieve results," shares Elizabeth Druback Celaya, director of Community Initiatives at NeighborWorks. "That is why centering resident voice is a central pillar of the NeighborWorks comprehensive community development framework, and it shows how opportunities like NeighborWorks' CLI can accelerate strategies coming directly from the community, moving them from idea to reality."