Reducing Health Disparities in South Florida

September 1, 2016, Department, by Kailyn Mattingly

Steven Marcus, Ed.D., president and CEO of the Health Foundation of South FloridaIn November 2015, NRPA was awarded a seven-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to establish the RWJF Awards for Health Equity. This award recognizes an individual who has successfully implemented a systems-change approach to reduce health disparities in his or her community. It supports RWJF’s vision for building a culture of health in which everyone has an equal opportunity to live in healthy environments, to make choices that lead to the healthiest lives possible and to receive quality health care.

NRPA is pleased to announce that the winner of its 2016 RWJF Award for Health Equity is Steven Marcus, Ed.D., president and CEO of the Health Foundation of South Florida, a nonprofit, grant-making organization dedicated to improving health equity and access to quality health services for all residents, especially the most vulnerable, in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. After hearing the announcement, Marcus stated, “From my perspective, health equity is reaching out to meet people where they are and giving them what they need to access: quality primary care, affordable fruits and vegetables, safe and well-maintained parks and other social determinants of health.”

In 2000, Marcus joined the Health Foundation, and with his help, the organization has invested more than $78 million in initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles for those in need. As president and CEO, he has dedicated his time to the residents of Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to promote healthy living. 

Since 1993, the Health Foundation of South Florida has awarded more than $113 million to public and nonprofit organizations focused on improving health and health-related services throughout the region. Under Marcus’ leadership, the Health Foundation was able to reconstruct its grant program to prioritize behavioral health, healthy eating, active communities, preventive measures and primary care. The funding and support from Marcus and the Health Foundation have made a tremendous difference for many families and individuals in vulnerable circumstances. Foundation grants have reached 1.6 million South Florida residents, either by services or through health-promoting changes to their environment, such as in schools, child care centers and neighborhoods. 

Marcus and the Health Foundation target community and health improvement through partnerships and collaboration with elected officials, community leaders and key decisionmakers from multiple sectors of the community. According to Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Director Jack Kardys, “[Marcus] and the Health Foundation collaborated with the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department to advance complete streets, age-friendly parks, outdoor fitness equipment, safe routes to parks, safe routes to aging in place and the establishment of a health and community design element within the Miami-Dade County Comprehensive Development Master Plan.” The collaboration between community members, organizations, local public health advocates and community leaders is a critical step toward a successful and sustainable change in the lives of the South Florida residents. 

This approach to grant making and the devotion of Marcus and the Health Foundation has helped improve the well-being of so many, and given them a second chance to live healthy, happy lives. For example, since 2008, more than 38,000 older adults have taken advantage of empowering, evidence-based programs as a result of Marcus’ Miami-Dade Age Friendly Initiative. This initiative has (1) incorporated age-friendly goals and principles into county planning policies; (2) developed strategies to improve the safety and ease with which older adults walk to neighborhood amenities such as banks, grocery stores and pharmacies; (3) enhanced park programming and infrastructure for older adults, (4) increased employment opportunities for older adults; and (5) fostered multi-sector leadership and action.

As a result of his dedication, Marcus and the Health Foundation have been awarded numerous grants and donations, including $140,000 from the Pfizer Foundation and Grant-Makers in Aging, $10,000 from AARP, $10,000 from United Way of Miami-Dade County, $6,500 from HSBC and $5,000 from Allegany Franciscan Ministries to support efforts in Miami-Dade County.

RWJF is supporting a total of nine national membership organizations in identifying and honoring individuals who are successfully using systems changes to address health disparities and achieve health equity within their communities. Marcus will be recognized nationally both at the 2016 NRPA Annual Conference and at an annual RWJF learning and recognition event that will highlight the work of this year’s winners. NRPA congratulates Marcus and his team for making measurable and sustainable differences in the health and well-being of individuals and families throughout South Florida.  


Kailyn Mattinglyis an NRPA Summer Intern and Guest Contributor to Parks & Recreation magazine.