Some noteworthy changes are coming to Tampa General Hospital’s Family Care Center Healthpark in East Tampa over the next several months.
A community garden will take root, offering instruction in farming and healthy eating habits. Primary care doctors at the center will routinely include exercise in their patient treatment plans and begin prescribing healthy food as medicine. Patients will be able to fill those prescriptions at a new on-site food pantry stocked by Feeding Tampa Bay. Farmers markets will come to this community that health officials say qualifies as a food desert.
It is all part of TampaWell, a new health and wellness initiative that Tampa General and the City of Tampa are launching in conjunction with a slew of community partners. The program starts in the historically Black East Tampa community, with a plan to then expands citywide.
“It is no accident we are starting in this community and moving this initiative throughout the entire city,” Tampa General President and CEO John Couris said during a May 10 launch event at the Family Care Healthpark. “The reason we’re starting in East Tampa is this is a community that deserves health and wellness. And it needs to start right here because Tampa General, myself included, believes it is a God-given right for every man, woman and child, regardless of where they live, regardless of their ability to pay, to have access to world-class healthcare.”
The Tampa General Hospital Foundation contributed $1 million to launch the program and support its first year of operation.
Speaking at the launch event, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Tampa’s ongoing growth, its ability to continue to attract businesses and its overall quality of life all depend in part on the health and wellness of its residents.
“The research shows that simply putting a farmers market into a food desert neighborhood improves the physical well-being of the entire community,” Castor said. “That’s important individually, but it’s important as a community as well, because we have to be healthy in order to accomplish all that we want to accomplish here.”
The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County’s July 2021 update of the county’s health equity profile pointed to some racial health inequities, including higher rates of infant mortality, cancer deaths and complications during pregnancy and delivery among the county’s Black population. Those types of inequities are one reason Tampa General is starting the program in East Tampa.
“This complex is really for the people of this community, the health of the people of this community, so we wanted to start somewhere where we are already embedded,” said Kim Christine, Tampa General’s administrator of health and wellness. “It’s a community we know has needs. There’s a need for health access. There are many uninsured and underinsured people here. We know that it’s a food desert, so they need access to healthy foods.”
The TampaWell program is based on the Wellness Valley program in the Romagna region of Italy, where some 250 public and private organizations have partnered on a community wellness initiative that promotes healthy living as a preventative measure to reduce the rates of chronic disease and serious health issues.
Expanding citywide, TampaWell will include a mobile app and mile markers with QR codes along the city’s recreational trails that will lead to information such as trail maps and fitness tips and allow users to track their progress in reaching fitness goals.
In the future, there is also a plan to develop a “Health Trail” connecting Tampa General’s downtown and Davis Island properties to heavily-used recreational routes such as Bayshore Boulevard, the cycle tracks on Cass and Jackson streets and the Selmon and Meridian greenways.
Before that, the plan is to work to build traction in East Tampa. At the launch event, several speakers noted the larger range of issues facing the community, including aging infrastructure, an underdeveloped public transit system and gentrification pushing out long-term residents as people move in from out of state.
Kevin Carr, the president of the River Grove Neighborhood Association, said the residents who live in the area need to get involved for the program to succeed.
“We’ve got to do this as a community,” he said. “This initiative to us is paramount to the wellness of our community.”
Thaddeus Bullard, also known as WWE wrestler Titus O’Neil, is also supporting the program through his Thaddeus Bullard Foundation. Bullard’s involvement in the community has included a significant donation of time and money to help improve Sligh Middle Magnet School. In some unscheduled comments at the launch event, Bullard took to the podium to reinforce Carr’s call for community involvement.
“I don’t have a politically correct way to say this- if we all want more, we’re going to have to do more,” Bullard said. “Period.”
For more information, please go to TampaWell.