As the global health community and the South Florida region continue to come together to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to reach out to let our partners and grantees, supporters and stakeholders know how the Health Foundation of South Florida has responded in these challenging times. Every decision we’ve made and continue to make is guided by our long-standing commitment and mission to ensure everyone in our community has the opportunity and resources they need to live a healthy life.

We began by reallocating 10 percent of our grant-making budget and earmarking it to fund local coronavirus relief efforts, specifically the South Florida nonprofit organizations at the frontline of helping the most vulnerable of our neighbors. In the face of unprecedented closures and needs, we understood these critical community organizations would require help in a variety of areas so they could continue to operate. As such, we provided grants to support everything from basic operational needs to personal protective equipment to programmatic assistance and more. We have made nearly a dozen grants. Here are details on a few of them:

Among the first investments we made during the pandemic: a $47,500 grant to the
Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to fund the development of a telehealth platform, so their clinics could continue to operate during the COVID-19 crisis. The use of telehealth, or virtual doctor visits, has seen a surge of interest and an explosion of growth as a result of the pandemic, in part because of the recent lift in federal restrictions, allowing Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse for it. Such shifts have certainly been fueled by the notion that telehealth can help mitigate the spread of the virus, by keeping both patients and healthcare workers safe, but that it may also provide the opportunity to increase access to care for some historically underserved communities, where the pandemic has had disproportionately negative outcomes. It is widely expected the use of telehealth will only continue to grow, and we believe this project in particular can provide insight and information into the benefits and challenges of that prospect.

Doctors, of course, aren’t the only ones going virtual. For nearly 40 years,
Hispanic Unity of Florida has provided wrap-around services to thousands clients, from preschoolers to adults, many of them immigrants transitioning to new lives in South Florida. When the pandemic forced a statewide shutdown, the staff at Hispanic Unity needed access to technology to allow them to continue to serve the community, especially in its most dire moment of need. We stepped in with a $45,000 grant to fund the revamping of their technical equipment and move services to virtual platforms, and to help provide for the basic needs of the families they serve.

Access to testing and protective equipment has been one of the most challenging aspects of the response to and management of the pandemic crisis. Which is why we made it a point to fund two specific efforts addressing these areas. In Miami-Dade, we provided the Jackson Health Foundation with a $26,000 matching fund grant to support the purchase of a COVID-19 Rapid Testing Machine that allows the health system to increase the number of tests they can administer and significantly reduce wait times for results. In Broward, we contributed nearly $13,000 to support the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sanitizers, for local nonprofit organizations.

There is power in unity. Rarely is this more true than when funders join to pool their resources and accomplish together what they cannot accomplish individually. In both Miami-Dade and Broward, the Health Foundation of South Florida joined funder collaboratives who, in partnership with the local United Ways, established respective relief funds. In Miami-Dade, we made a $100,000 contribution and joined The Miami Foundation, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Miami Herald and the Frederick DeLuca Foundation in seeding the Miami Pandemic Response Fund. And in Broward, we contributed $65,000 and joined American Express, Florida Blue, JPMorgan Chase and HCA Healthcare, among others, in supporting the COVID-19 Campaign. In both cases, the funds offer support for the basic needs of residents, from rental assistance to food access, as well as resources that address the needs of the small businesses that make our local economy run.

As a we increasingly focus on how social factors, like access to affordable housing and nutritious foods, deeply impact people’s ability to live healthy lives—it was impossible for us not to support Florida’s largest food bank, Feeding South Florida. We are proud to have provided them with a $30,000 grant to help fund the hiring of temporary employees and the purchase of food to meet the staggering 600 percent increase in requests for food assistance they have seen since the pandemic. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Feeding South Florida has distributed more than 10.5 million pounds of food in the region.

As a funder, the Health Foundation of South Florida is also adapting to the challenges of this unprecedented crisis by adapting our own grantmaking systems and practices. To relieve some of the extraordinary pressures our grantee partners are feeling, we are:

Loosening restrictions on current grants and in some cases considering the conversion of project-based funding to unrestricted support;

Accelerating payment schedules;

Being flexible with deliverables and understanding if conferences, events, and other project deliverables are postponed or canceled.

We’re all in this together. In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to work with our partners and grantees to navigate how we can address needs and reduce health disparities across South Florida. We will keep you updated on how we’re moving forward and on our progress. In the meantime, stay healthy and safe.