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Black History Month: Healthcare, Activism, and Community Support

Lee Health in the Community
Author name: Lee Health Community Affairs

Black history month graphic

What do you think about during Black History Month?

If you were born after desegregation, you might think back to your high school history classes. Many are familiar with scenes such as sit-ins and bus boycotts—protests such as the March on Washington and household names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, too.

But black history is more than just the civil rights movement. It spans all of American history and includes key players and innovators right here in Southwest Florida.

To honor and celebrate Black History Month, Lee Health and its Community Affairs team want to highlight two historic black healthcare workers who made this community the center of their work. These trailblazers strove to address inequity in Southwest Florida and set an example for us to follow today – a constant reminder of the continuing need to make education and healthcare accessible to our underserved communities.

Dr. Ella Piper and accessible education

Dr. Ella Piper, an inspiring healthcare activist in the 1920s, worked as a podiatrist, beautician, businesswoman, and philanthropist. She was wildly successful, and her clients included influential people such as Mina Miller Edison (wife of Thomas Edison).

Because of her philanthropy, her success became Dunbar’s success as she used her wealth and influence to make education accessible to people of color in Southwest Florida. Dr. Piper made college accessible by raising funds and securing scholarships for young people in Dunbar. She also assisted in the building of the Old Dunbar School, which was the only black high school in all of Southwest Florida.

'Doc' Carter and accessible healthcare

Lewis “Doc” Carter III was one of the area’s first black pharmacists. Growing up in Dunbar, Doc Carter earned his degree in pharmacology from Florida A&M and opened Edwin’s Pharmacy in the 1960s. Until then, Dunbar’s residents didn’t have access to a pharmacy in their community and had to travel long distances to get their prescriptions filled.

Although the pharmacy eventually closed, that didn’t hamper Doc Carter’s activities in the community. He served on Fort Myers’ Neighborhood Redevelopment Agency, where he helped distribute federal funds to public projects in Dunbar.

Lee Health’s Community Affairs team continues this important work by currently joining forces with the Sozo Pharmacy, owned and operated by Shadreka McIntosh, who was born and raised in Dunbar. Sozo’s grand opening took place in January.

Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month, reminds us: “The mere imparting of information is not education.” As members of the Southwest Florida community, we hope you will share our passion in actively learning more about our shared history.

For Lee Health and our Community Affairs team, that means respecting our past and supporting programs in the present and future to make education and healthcare more accessible.

“We are proud to partner with community members and organizations in a variety of ways to listen to and address the needs of the community,” Stephanie Wardein, system director of Community Affairs at Lee Health. “We understand from our most recent community health needs assessment that cardiovascular risk factors, diabetes, chronic conditions and the struggle to meet nutritional guidelines for health disproportionately impact communities of color.

“We are committed to partnering with community organizations to bring resources in new ways to meet the needs of our community members.”

Here are some current Lee Health Community Affairs programs and partnership information currently underway for Black History Month 2022:

Barbershop Wellness Program

Lee Health is working with community volunteers at Utopia Unisex Beauty Salon to improve access to healthcare and overall health with the participation of local partners such as the Florida State Department of Health in Lee County

Blood pressure checks, scheduling of appointments with physicians, and consults with physician and pharmacy residents are available one Saturday each month. As the program grows, other community agencies will be invited to provide resources for community members.

By harnessing the social and cultural capital of Utopia as a pillar of the community, health outreach can take on a more intentional presence and effort in building trust and improving health and equity. A Barbershop Wellness Program is an investment in the prevention of poor health and a promotion of opportunity for best health.

Premier Mobile Health Services

As a direct result of Lee Health’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Health Disparities Group, a partnership with Premier Mobile Health Services, and a grant awarded by Health Resources & Services Administration, we have dramatically changed how healthcare is provided to Lee County residents in underserved minority communities.

Lee Health’s partnership with Premier Mobile Health Services is the route to better health and a driving force for delivering care in this ever-changing world. Services include preventive care, education, health plans, chronic disease management and prevention, free health screenings, HIV and STD testing, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and so much more.

Patients without health insurance and income below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines pay nothing for care. Patients who do not meet the income guidelines are provided care at a significantly reduced rate.

Community Partnership School Program

The Community Partnership School program at Franklin Park Elementary and Fort Myers Middle Academy is making a difference by reducing inequities for students, families, and staff members. The program eliminates barriers to success by listening to the needs of community members and collectively building systems that serve everyone.

Partnerships in the community are crucial in finding these solutions. Lee Health serves as one of the program's four core partners alongside Florida Gulf Coast University, The School District of Lee County, and the initiative's lead nonprofit, United Way of Lee, Hendry, and Glades.

Lee Health supports the Community Partnership School Program at Franklin Park Elementary and Fort Myers Middle Academy with a collaborative effort to eliminate barriers to access. Our current focus is prioritizing mental and physical health. Plans are underway for a school-based health center at Franklin Park Elementary.

Architects are working with Lee Health Facility Management to help design this pivotal space on campus that will bring providers to the school community just steps outside the classroom.

Students will receive a variety of primary care service needs, such as dental, vision, and hearing screenings. Future services include increased behavioral health support, health and wellness education, prenatal care and education, and referrals to specialists for students and families.

Lee County NAACP

History was made recently when the Level 11 Adult Trauma Center, the only center of its kind between Tampa and Miami, moved from Lee Memorial Hospital to Gulf Coast Medical Center

NAACP President James Muwakkil invited Lee Health leaders to answer questions from community members regarding the future of Lee Memorial Hospital. A mainstay in our community for more than 100 years, Lee Memorial Hospital will continue to play a vital role providing services in advanced cardiac and stroke care, orthopedics, laboratory, imaging including CT scans and X-rays, general medicine, surgery, tests, The Rehabilitation Hospital and 24/7 emergency services.

Trauma centers treat major, life-threatening injuries, such as those suffered in vehicle crashes or from gunshots, at a higher level than standard emergency rooms. Lee Health’s trauma facility is considered a Level 11 center.  More serious cases, such as those involving life-threatening burns, are transferred to Level 1 facilities in Tampa and Miami.  Lee Health’s trauma program serves Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades counties.