Case Study: Bithlo Transformation Effort
Engaging Partners to Transform a Forgotten Community
For most of Bithlo’s 8,200 people, a semi-rural community in Orlando (FL), poverty is the norm – and it is generational. Residents struggle daily with basic survival needs: food, clothing and shelter. Jobs are scarce, and the major industry is junk yards. No grocer, barber shop, library, gym, swimming pool, or place to earn a GED exist, with housing consisting largely of dilapidated trailers. The nearest bus stop is miles away. An estimated 60% of adults are functionally illiterate, and teen pregnancy rates are high in girls 13-15. Substance abuse is rampant. With no public water or sere, well water is contaminated with elements from an old gas station and illegal landfill.
In August 2009, a small 501c3, United Global Outreach, conducted a door-knocking campaign; it started the ‘Bithlo transformation Effort,’ focusing on Education, Environment, Transportation, Health Care, Housing, Basic Needs and Building Community. After discussion with UGO leaders, Florida Hospital adopted Bithlo as a local mission effort/footprint project in 2011. It supports UGO’s mission of ‘transforming forgotten communities into places in which we’d all want to live.’ Critically, the hospital committed to support UGO – not take over or insist on ‘the hospital way.’
The partner list then grew to over 65 entities. Florida Hosiptial has provided some funding but, more important, has leveraged its business , community and political partners to help with the transformation Effort. Since 2011:
- The first permanent medical clinic (a Federally Qualified Health Center or FHGC) opened.
- County Government committed to 7 miles of sidewalks.
- The Florida Department of Transportation committed to widening a dangerous bridge in 2014 instead of 2022.
- Bus service is being restored to Bithlo.
- Florida Hospital is advocating to bring in clean water.
- Florida Hospital leveraged its relationships with its construction, fire system and other vendors to donate services to the community.
- Hospitals departments, including the College of Health Sciences, provide hundreds of hours of volunteer times.
- The hospital serves as the fiscal agent for several grants, including one for much needed dental services.
- UGO operates a 40-student private school in Bithlo, and Florida Hospital contributed seed money toward the purchase of the adjacent property.
Very soon, the three-acre ‘Transformation Village’ will anchor a sense of place for Bithlo, with the school, a coffee shop, a hydroponic community garden, larger community events, a library and computer lab, adult education, social services and Medicaid enrollment, and more.
While in the ER one morning, Tim McKinney, the UGO Executive Vice President who is leading the Bithlo Transformation Effort, encountered five patients from Bithlo. One was a man who had cut his hand. The others were a mother and her three children. The 8-year-old boy had had a respiratory infection for several days; the 5-year-old boy had conjunctivitis, and the 13-year-old girls was in pain from a urinary tract infections. When the conjunctivitis worsened, the mother called an ambulance to bring them all to the ER.
ER data from Florida H0spital/Adventist Health System for Bithlo’s two census tracts show that Bithlo’s 8,200 residents accounted for over 4,00 ER visits during the previous year. As with the family Tim saw, many of these visits as well as EMS usage are for non-urgent care that would be better addressed through primary care.
The Bithlo Transformation Effort is working to address not only this, but many other issues, improving educational level, employment, access to primary care, and access to transportation. Florida Hospital/Adventist Health System’s ER records will be one of the ways that the partnership can assess the impact of the effort.