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Honoring Black History Month by Committing to an Equitable Future

Lee Health in the Community
Author name: Lee Health

Lee Health is proud to honor Black History Month by celebrating the significant contributions of the Black community throughout history, here in Southwest Florida and beyond.

Systemic Racism as a Public Health Issue

While we honor Black History Month, it’s also important to take a closer look at systemic racism as a public health crisis, as acknowledged by the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association.

Systemic racism affects the social determinants of health—things like access to education, affordable housing, food security, employment with livable wages, and many others—all based on how a person looks.

It is imperative for us to learn more about the disproportionate health disparities that persist throughout our communities of color, and how systemic racism hurts the overall health of our communities.

Health Disparities in Communities of Color

According to the CDC, about 2 out of every 5 Black adults have high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control. Similarly, nearly half of all Black adults already struggle with some form of cardiovascular disease like heart disease or stroke.

Though these disparities are not new, they have recently been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Heart Association recognizes that communities of color are more at risk of negative effects of COVID-19 because of these chronic health conditions that already exist.

In our own community, we see similar health disparities.

According to the 2020 Lee County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), residents in the Black community disproportionately struggle with diabetes, multiple cardiovascular risk factors, 3 or more chronic conditions, and meeting recommended nutrition guidelines.

Acknowledging the Past for a Better Future

To build a better future, we have to reflect on our own history.

Established as a small hospital with 10 beds in 1916, Lee Memorial Hospital was the beginning of healthcare in our area. Founded by Melissa Jones and Candis Walker in 1920, Jones-Walker Hospital was the first hospital in Southwest Florida to serve the local Black community.

Lee Memorial Hospital remained segregated until 1966, when the Jones-Walker Hospital was ordered to close and transition all patient care to Lee Memorial Hospital.

As we remember Lee Memorial Hospital’s previous history of segregation, we are deeply committed to investing in our communities of color, and building a more inclusive and equitable community for all.

In 2020, Lee Health invested over $59.1 million in health-related community benefit outreach directly into the community alongside trusted community partners.

To share some examples of these partnerships, we highlight our growing relationship with Premier Mobile Health Services, a mobile medical unit that brings compassion and healthcare to our under-resourced communities.

We collaborate and learn from leaders of the Lee County NAACP, who continuously advocate for civil rights and equal opportunity in the Black community.

We deepen our relationship with faith-based communities in partnership with service- and community-oriented partners like Mount Hermon Ministries.

We invest in the wellness and access to opportunity for our youth through support of organizations like the Quality Life Center of SWFL.

Together, we are dedicated to amplifying the voices of our most underserved communities.

This month and every month, we honor Black history by promoting and advancing health, well-being, and opportunity for all. Lee Health continues to reflect and learn from the past, listen to our community, and take actionable steps toward an equitable future.