The GNV4ALL health and transportation team has done extensive research on both of these issues in Alachua County. Alachua County has been working towards its vision of “a community where everyone can be healthy” since November 2012. Our team recognizes that when GNV4ALL improves the social determinants of health (jobs, education, poverty, etc.), health will improve for all citizens in Alachua County. The health team has chosen four focus areas to significantly improve health: tobacco use, oral health, mental health awareness and obesity. Strategies to reduce tobacco use include raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old, enacting policies preventing tobacco use in parks and limiting the sale of tobacco near schools. To improve oral health, partners will work together to refer people from the Emergency Department to the Southwest Dental Clinic for appropriate care and expand the Medicaid dental providers serving the east side of Gainesville. By training residents in mental health first aid, people will be able to easily identify someone in a mental health crisis and direct them to appropriate resources. Finally, the team will focus on increasing the amount of adults and children who are at a healthy weight by recognizing smarter elementary school lunchrooms, growing the farm to school program, providing adult nutrition education through cooking classes and community gardens and helping municipalities gain health recognition through programs like Community Champions. For more information please see the Alachua County Community Health Improvement Plan and Assessment at http://alachua.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/community-health-planning-and-statistics/data-and-reporting/index.html
As for transportation, our team has been looking at disparities in bus services for low-income neighborhoods. In response to the October 2018 GNV4ALL Canvassing question – In the last year, what have been your two biggest daily challenges?- 40% of GEZ respondents identified transportation. Lack of access to reliable transportation limits access to jobs that can lift individuals and families out of the daily struggles of poverty. To alleviate some of this burden, our plan is to continue advocating for three main things: funding and implementation of a Fare Free K-12 program; expansion of First Mile/Last mile transportation pilot to the GEZ; and funding and implementation of bus stop improvements in the GEZ.
The Alachua County Community Health Improvement Partnership (AC-CHIP) recommends that GNV4ALL focus its health efforts in eliminating tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco use has been the number-one cause of preventable death and disease in the USA for decades. Since 1964, the US Surgeon General estimates 20 million Americans have died because of smoking, including 2.5 million nonsmokers that have died from secondhand smoke. The tobacco industry has a history of aggressively targeting specific demographic groups to addict new smokers, and 95% of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 21. The CDC reports that 19.7% (one in five) of Gainesville residents over the age of 18 continues to smoke. In our community and across the nation, tobacco-related cancers are higher among certain groups, including men, African Americans, and those with low income or education. To move our community forward for everyone, we must break the cycle of tobacco induced sickness and death on our friends, families, fellow residents and pets. We must work together to promote community policies and actions to prevent tobacco use among youth, reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, and support cessation efforts for current smokers. Together, we can make the next generation tobacco free.
Oral Health Access
Within the GEZ, strategies to improve oral health will focus on two elementary schools – Metcalfe and Rawlings. These two schools have consistently fared poorly on the annual 3rd grade dental screenings provided by University of Florida College of Dentistry, with over 50 percent of the students having untreated cavities. Working with the UF Department of Community Dentistry, a pilot program for students including paste and brushes, education and oral screenings was started in Metcalfe and Rawlings in 2019. Future plans, depending on funding, would expand the program to all students at both schools. The estimated cost for pilot expansion is approximately $2,500. Our goal for the 2019-2020 school year is to obtain funding to expand this program to all Metcalfe and Rawlings students
To improve health status and establish a positive life-long habit that would help combat obesity and improve mental health, the GEZ would like to re-establish the Morning Mile program at Metcalfe Elementary school for the 2019-2020 school year. This before-school program allows students the opportunity to “walk or run” laps to burn off energy and prepare for the school day. GEZ will recruit volunteers to help staff the program at Metcalfe which would be supervised by a Metcalfe school faculty member. We have also been working with Alachua County School Food Services and Bread of the Mighty Food Bank to establish a school fresh food pantry at Metcalfe Elementary school.
Fare Free Routes
The committee recommends RTS establish fare free routes for certain approved routes within the RTS system (i.e. routes 1, 15 and 11). The committee recommends RTS solicit bids to offset costs for these fare free routes with targeted exclusive corporate sponsorship. In addition, the committee recommends expansion of service for route 75 to include additional stops/territory and the addition of more buses during operating hours.
In conjunction with this plan, our team believes targeted free RTS bus passes to the K-12 students would provide much needed relief for GEZ community residents. Modeled on similar successful programs in the state of Florida (Leon, Hillsborough and Polk Counties), a K-12 Fare Free policy would provide students with transportation to and from school, after-school programs and job opportunities. Currently the University of Florida and Santa Fe College students and staff ride for “free” as part of their student fees, but all other student riders pay fares. RTS recently estimated the annual cost to provide K-12 Fare Free transportation in Alachua County to be approximately $130,000.
The committee recommends establishment of a working group between GNV4ALL and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, specifically District 1 of the Chamber. The purpose of this group is to provide strategic planning, guidance and management of private transportation options for employed residents of East Gainesville. Initially this group will coordinate with the City, Uber and potentially with area employers to provide Uber carpool transportation from specific pickup points to employees who live in East Gainesville and work in the Butler Plaza/Celebration Point area as a pilot program. The group will manage this pilot program and determine appropriate duration and expansion opportunities in addition to potential funding and revenue sources. The group will also determine feasibility and funding sources for private transportation opportunities from East Gainesville to Alachua with the strategic objective of establishing a permanent operating structure for these and other transportation programs. As appropriate, the group will encourage formation of an employee cooperative association composed of employees who use the transportation programs in order to determine additional needs and opportunities.
First Mile/Last Mile Program
A frequent complaint of east-side RTS riders is the frequency of service and the number of transfers/stops to reach a destination. Many east side routes only run once per hour — or every 30 minutes for limited periods. To help with this issue, GNV4ALL would also like to see the expansion of the first mile/last mile pilot program to the GEZ geographic area. This pilot program, started in 2019, picks up and drops off riders at their home and transfers them directly to Rosa Parks Transfer station for specific limited hours (morning and evening) during the weekdays.