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Lee Health Celebrates International Women’s Day

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

International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on March 8, is a day for us to reflect on the accomplishments women have made throughout all sectors and fields, despite historical exclusion.

One of those sectors is public health. Women have – and continue to make – tremendous, essential contributions to ensure a healthier nation. Here are just a few of the amazing women who helped pave the way for all of us, in Southwest Florida and beyond:

Dr. Virginia Alexander was a Black doctor who pioneered the study of systemic racism in healthcare. Dr. Marie Equi was a doctor who advocated for low-income and working-class patients and community members. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was an American surgeon, women’s suffrage activist, Civil War veteran, and continues to be the only woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

These women helped set the groundwork for so many initiatives, and their groundbreaking ideas helped shed light on essential issues that affect women and minority populations today.

For example: According to a 2013 CDC report, women and almost all minority groups were more likely to report their own health as fair or poor. Although health disparities for women differ significantly between minority populations, the CDC recognizes that two out of three caregivers in the United States are women.

Caregivers provide regular support to people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. This dedication, however, puts these caregivers at a higher risk of poor mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. During COVID-19, these conditions have intensified because of fear and social isolation.

Outside of caregiving, women still face barriers to good health across the country and right here in Southwest Florida.

According to the 2020 Lee County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), women are more likely to report symptoms of chronic depression and even experience difficulty accessing affordable produce.

As part of Lee Health’s celebration of International Women’s Day, we are proud to spotlight one of our own: Diane Spears. Lee Health and Fort Myers Mayor Kevin B. Anderson proclaimed Feb. 22, 2021, as Diane Spears Day to honor Diane’s accomplishments and commitment to the Southwest Florida community.

Diane – one of the first Black nurses to work for Lee Health ­– has been a mentor and inspiration. Starting as a farmworker and later rising through the ranks to become a nursing director of Lee Memorial Hospital’s Medical Infectious Disease Unit, Diane is the picture of perseverance.

Diane continues be the trusted partner in the local community, dedicating her time and expertise to creating opportunities for others to pursue their best health.

A celebration of women and the many significant contributions that have shaped the world we live in reminds us of how far we’ve come and how we are better together.

At Lee Health, we celebrate these achievements and stand committed to gender equity in all of our work—our care, our employees, and our community.

Rachel Walter, Community Programs Coordinator, and Stephanie Wardein, System Director of Community Affairs