Meet our Communities: West Kendall, Florida

By Javier Hernandez-Lichtl, CEO, West Kendall Baptist Hospital

From before West Kendall Baptist Hospital opened, our staff has operated under guiding themes that describe who we are and what we value. As we prepared to open, it was “Building Our Team,” then “Opening Our Doors,” followed by the “Year of the People” and so on. In 2013, in response to our Community Health Needs Assessment, we launched Healthy West Kendall, a community coalition with the vision of creating the healthiest community in Florida. We’ve had many successes, from the 13,000-plus free screenings we’ve provided to the school gardens and walking school bus projects helping kids develop healthy lifestyle habits, to hosting community events that draw more than 10,000 participants each year. Yet, as we entered our sixth year of operation, I knew it was time to “redefine” (our current theme) and look for the next curve, something that would catapult our community to the next level. Then late one night as I reviewed emails, I clicked on a link about Communities of Excellence 2026 and knew immediately I had found what our West Kendall community needed.

To understand our journey here, we have to go back 15 years, when the rapidly growing area now known as West Kendall was a patchwork of neighborhoods without many of the anchoring institutions – businesses, restaurants, government, etc. – that root a community and lend it an identity. Residents here were used to driving many miles east and north to buy groceries, shop for clothes and gifts, or even get a meal in a restaurant that didn’t use plastic utensils. Still, the people who lived here knew they needed a hospital in their community and asked Baptist Health South Florida to be their provider. Fast forward to 2011, when the hospital finally opened. On our first day, we saw 71 people in our emergency department, admitted our first inpatient and delivered our first baby. It was a true testament to the need that existed, and we were proud to be the health system helping to fill that gap. Today West Kendall Baptist serves as physical and metaphorical town center for this sprawling community of nearly 400,000 people that represents 15% of the county population. Our emergency department serves 70,000 and we care for more than 8,700 inpatients; nearly 1,000 babies are born each year inside our walls. But it’s what we do outside our facility that makes me most proud.

Our innovation drivers – teams focused on Arts & Culture, Green & Sustainable, Technology & Health & Wellness – have hosted community events like a technology showcase and roadside clean ups, conducted field trips to see recycling plants and food distribution centers and connected with residents through the arts and wellness activities. Through Healthy West Kendall, we are addressing the social, cultural and environmental factors that shape the health of our residents. These include creating streets and public spaces that support health, building a stronger economic base in our community, making sure all children have a chance to succeed in school and helping new immigrants gain a foothold on the American Dream. Nearly 80% of West Kendall residents are Hispanic/Latino, and more than half speak a language other than English at home. They come from a host of Caribbean, Central and South American countries – Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico – and the unique perceptions and beliefs they bring to the community offers tremendous opportunity and, in some cases, a few challenges.

Driven in part by an influx of immigrants, West Kendall grew by 23% in the decade between 2000 and 2010, adding about 73,000 residents seeking cheaper housing, safer neighborhoods and open space. Nestled between the Everglades on the west and the Florida turnpike on the east, West Kendall has transformed into a heavily populated collection of enclosed housing developments and commercial strip shopping centers, anchored by two institutions of higher education – Florida International University and Miami Dade College, an executive airport and West Kendall Baptist Hospital. West Kendall remains part of unincorporated Miami-Dade County, and the absence of a municipality contributes to a lack of cohesion and sense of place that some residents have sought without success to change.

The Communities of Excellence journey that we have embarked upon will provide a foundation on which to unite our community behind the shared value of belonging – to a place and a community – and identity. Our experience with the Sterling Award has taught us that what gets measured gets done. The raw materials for a world-class community are here, and Communities of Excellence 2026 is our way forward.

Read more about West Kendall here

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