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Researchers hope to form community partnerships to address health equity

Researchers from two Florida universities hope to kick off a program designed to address health inequity in Port St. Joe in the coming months. 


The plan is simple — find ways to bring the stakeholders together in one place, and facilitate the discussions that, the researchers hope, will result in an actionable plan to address health disparities throughout the community.


“We sort of divided the stakeholders into groups. Who has interest in health equity in Port St. Joe and who has influence?” said Christian Wells, a professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida. 


“For the project that we’re doing, it’s called a transformative scenario planning process,” added University of West Florida Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Kwame Owusu-Daaku. “The concept uses the word ‘stuck.’ These are stakeholders who can’t get past a certain point. We know that we want to see health equity in our community, but that isn’t the case. There may be some disagreements about what the priorities are, in which direction we should be going.”


“We want to get these stakeholders who don’t necessarily agree with each other all the time together in the same space to envision the kind of health future they want.”


The project is one of ten of its kind currently being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation around the country. The foundation, which is headquartered in New Jersey, is a philanthropic organization that largely focuses on addressing access to healthcare and other health-related issues.


The Port St. Joe project, which has been funded to the sum of $125,000, is part of the foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program. Under it health is defined broadly. 


According to the researchers, it can include issues such as housing, income and redevelopment, and the project seeks to explore the term health equity in the broad definitions which might be brought by stakeholders.


As members of the program’s newest cohort, Owusu-Daaku and Wells, along with community partner Dannie Bolden, “will focus on structural racism in North Port St. Joe by assessing the ways in which intentional, authentic, and sustained engagement between NPSJ and the City of Port St. Joe and other stakeholders, in a facilitated and exploratory environment, can improve previously strained relationships, expose and address structural racism, and start to develop trust to catalyze health equity,” according to the foundation’s website.


Wells, Bolden and Owusu-Daaku plan to host a series of meetings between representatives of organizations, businesses and government entities from throughout the community, including a two-day retreat style gathering and two follow-up meetings to assess progress and determine potential roadblocks.


Currently, the professor’s students are conducting data-based research to compile a more formal health equity assessment that will be used to help identify areas of concern. Owusu-Daaku said this includes looking at disease incidents and death rates, access to education and other factors.


It is their hope to have the project up and running by the end of the summer.


“I tell my students there’s a difference between optimism and hope. An optimistic person thinks thing are going to work out, so they sit back and they wait, and a hopeful person knows that things aren’t going to work out, so they roll up their sleeves and do something about it,” said Wells.


“Knowing what we know about all the challenges in North Port St. Joe, we have no reason to be optimistic, but we have every reason to be hopeful. And that means stakeholders will have to work together.”