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Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete selects new leaders

Mark Parker

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Carl Lavender, chief equity officer for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, speaks at a youth summit. He will now serve as the organization's interim co-CEO. Photos provided.

As stewards of $170 million in assets meant to promote health equity throughout Pinellas County, dynamic leadership is critical for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s (FHSP) success.

So its governing board decided to appoint both Carol Martin Brown and Carl Lavender as interim co-CEOs as they look to replace the organization’s embattled former leader.

The two will maintain their current roles with the nonprofit. Martin Brown serves as the chief financial and administrative officer, and Lavender guides community investments, partnerships and programming as the chief equity officer.

While Lavender stressed he spoke from personal opinion, he believes the board decided to appoint two interim CEOs due to the complex dynamics of FHSP’s mission.

“It works because it gives the organization the kind of breadth that you need,” said Lavender. “Everything from admin and technology to community and our center engagement. There’s so much in that … a co-CEO status makes good business sense.”

Martin Brown and Lavender assume the role vacated by Randall Russell in November 2022. Russel joined the nonprofit in 2015 and resigned following a nearly five-month investigation into leadership concerns.

FHSP’s governing board placed Russell on administrative leave in June 2022 without providing details about the investigation.

Carol Martin Brown, chief financial and administrative officer, will serve as interim co-CEO.

Proceeds from the sale of the city’s nonprofit Bayfront Medical Center, now known as Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, served as seed funding for FHSP. The organization launched in 2013, and its website notes that foundation officials believe race equity leads to health equity. It also states that FHSP “acts as a connector, a listener and a source of fuel that accelerates the already powerful work being done to advance equity.”

When asked if he felt having new leadership in place would help advance the organization’s mission following a period of uncertainty, Lavender said, “we are focused on 2023 and continuing to work with the community to impact health equity through racial equity.

“We cannot, and will not, deter from that mission,” he said. “When you have a role like this in lieu of a new CEO being hired, there is a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the organization.”

The board is also searching for a new permanent president and CEO. Lavender declined to answer if he applied for the full-time position and said, “I’m trusting that the board of directors will make a choice in terms of who the leader ought to be for the organization.”

In the meantime, he relayed three focus areas for the immediate future that officials slightly modified from the previous administration’s tenure. Lavender said the much-anticipated reopening of the Center for Health Equity is foremost on the list, and its grand reopening is Jan. 20.

FHSP opened the Center in 2019 to provide a place where people can come together to find resources and partners to advance racial equity and achieve health equity. Lavender stressed the importance of the “first and only of its kind” facility in St. Petersburg.

He noted that FHSP handed over the Center to the Department of Health (DOH) during the pandemic, as it was the only south Pinellas County facility capable of testing thousands of residents for Covid. Lavender said his organization didn’t charge rent, paid the utility bills and assumed all the associated risk.

He said the endeavor saved lives as the DOH conducted 110,000 appointments and administered 65,000 vaccines and boosters at the Center.

Next on the list is a new funding system. Lavender explained that the foundation is transitioning to a request for proposals (RFP) process when nonprofit organizations seek grants. He expects to host a community meeting explaining the details by the end of January.

He explained that the third focus is scaling what the FHSP officials now call Tier One projects. Lavender said those require “lots of heavy lifting” and include a partnership with major hospitals in downtown St. Pete and creating a “human service hub” for Pinellas County.

“We’re going to continue doing that in ’23, with some solid outcomes to follow,” he added. “Otherwise, it’s steady as she goes, moving the ship in the right direction.”

Lavender said he looks forward to complimenting Martin Brown in the new year as they lead the organization. He also looks forward to continuing his work with Rev. Kenneth Irby, vice chair of the board, and Donna Peterson, the board chair.

In a statement, Peterson said the two “kept the organization moving apace, assuring strong community partnerships and sound fiscal oversight while supporting staff as they work to fulfill the promise of our mission.”

Lavender eagerly awaits strengthening relationships with local leaders to create change.

Most of all, he wants to make the community proud in his new role.

“Especially our young people,” added Lavender. “I want them to say, ‘Mr. Carl said what he said and meant what he meant, and he did it well.’”

 

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    james gillespie

    January 9, 2023at9:14 pm

    I was on the Bayfront Health Governing Board that voted the funds of the sale to benefit the South Pinellas Black community. While I have been involved in other areas, I don’t think the community knows exactly what the Foundation and grants have accomplished since 2015 and how the Black residents have been raised up by real equity grants. The story needs to be told more specifically and with data. What are all the good things to talk about so far?

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    January 11, 2023at9:01 pm

    Mr. Gillespie, you read my mind. My thought is what are they doing with this money?? They need to post results, what have they done to achieve their mission? What is their mission statement???What are their goals???

  3. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    January 18, 2023at4:55 pm

    James and Shirley, I think we can ask that question of a lot of local organizations. It certainly sounds like they are moving forward under this new co-leadership. Personally I felt inspired by this article and look forward to them fulfilling their mission.

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