Josephine Mercado

Founder and CEO, Hispanic Health Initiatives, Inc.
Purpose Prize Fellow 2014

This lawyer brings community healthcare to Hispanics in central Florida who haven’t been on the official health radar.

Before I retired to central Florida in 1999, I was an attorney in New York City for 17 years. There, I founded two health and education initiatives: Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert and First Saturday In October, which focused on breast health education and awareness among New York City Latinas.

Soon after I arrived in Florida, a national nonprofit asked me and other professionals to study the health status of Latinas in the region. Much to my dismay, there was no data , because the state classified Latinas by race – white or non-white – which did not capture their unique cultural and health needs.

In 2000, Hispanic Health Initiatives (HHI) came to life in my apartment, originally nurtured with personal funds. I founded it to bridge the disconnect between health providers and the underserved Latino community of central Florida, through culturally sensitive and linguistically responsive healthcare.


  • 1,301 people have received health risk assessments for chronic diseases since 2011 

  • 600 have reported improved health outcomes as a result of coaching by community health workers 

  • 76 volunteer Community Health Workers have been trained to screen for chronic diseases


 

A volunteer-driven organization, HHI has brought bilingual health education, services and referrals to tens of thousands of individuals and families for the past 14 years. Our services are free for everyone regardless of gender, race or ethnicity.

Our ‘take it to the community’ approach has set a benchmark for the delivery of health education and services – at times and locations convenient to the medically underserved, such as weeknights after work or Saturdays; at local churches, community centers, schools and even at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

It has been a very fulfilling experience. Although I am 72, I see myself continuing to make HHI a model for community healthcare improvement throughout Florida and, God willing, the United States.