In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight: Felita Jones, EdD

Dr. Felita Jones, president and CEO, National Health Foundation

The National Health Foundation (NHF) welcomed Felita Jones, EdD, as president and CEO on Aug. 15. A few weeks into her new role, Dr. Jones shared with HASC’s communications team about what has inspired her life’s work, NHF’s current projects and her vision for the organization’s future.

This interview is part of In the Spotlight — a HASC series profiling people connected to the association who are pursuing innovative, impactful work in their communities. 

What drew you to the NHF role?

What initially drew me to the NHF role was something personal. At one point in my life, I was near to being homeless. Through no fault of my own, I found myself experiencing housing insecurity – something I could have never planned for nor imagined. By the grace of God, things turned out differently for me. Yet I always wondered how many others had a different story, where they were not able to avert homelessness, like I was able to. Add that to growing up in South Central Los Angeles, where I got to experience up close and personal the increasing levels of barriers present in under-resourced communities, and I was committed early on to engaging in work that provided low-barrier opportunities for individuals in need.

Like NHF, I am a firm believer that everyone should have the same opportunities, resources and access irrespective of zip code or bank account status. It’s an honor to have been chosen to lead an organization like NHF that has deeply rooted core values of empathy, community, health equity, partnership, justice, equity diversity, inclusion and a “people first” motto — and that also weaves these values into key decision-making at every level within the organization

As you’ve been settling in, what aspects of NHF have stood out to you most?

What has stood out to me most are the employees. They really are the heart of the organization. Not only are they a highly mission-driven group, but I have also found that they are genuinely passionate about serving communities in need and being part of the solution with equitable programs and services. The culture within NHF is rich with empathy and optimism, and it is designed to permeate into every program and service through the daily interactions among staff, community members and guests.

Can you describe one of NHF’s newest recuperative care sites for unhoused seniors, the Arleta development?

Our newest facility is an interim housing and recuperative care program in Arleta. This 43,000-square-foot, 148-bed, state-of-the-art facility will provide trauma-informed care to adults ages 55 and over experiencing homelessness until they are able to find permanent housing. The facility is the first of its kind in Los Angeles County and is the largest project that NHF has undertaken in its 50-year history. The program will include daily medical oversight and comprehensive social services in addition to a congregate meal program, on-site therapies, and modular clinics providing both primary care services and behavioral health care, as well as recreational spaces intentionally designed for ultimate health and well-being. NHF’s Arleta Interim Housing is anticipated to end homelessness for up to 300 older adults each year — a significant achievement given the crisis of aging on the streets of LA County.

In addition to recuperative care, what other current programs are in place to improve the health of under-resourced communities?

Great question! Seventy-five percent of NHF’s business is heavily focused on recuperative care and the other 25% on our Community Initiatives (CIs) in the areas of food access, built environment and education. Our CI programs pack a mighty punch by focusing on a community-driven approach through well-thought-out and evidence-based programming. These initiatives are aimed at identifying barriers to food access and developing solutions to address them; empowering youth to make informed decisions regarding their personal, financial and sexual health; and working with the community to advocate for park and street infrastructure, neighborhood beautification and exploration of community amenities. Each of these programs serves as the basis for the community work that NHF does by partnering with communities to ensure equity and meaningful collaboration.

Do you have a sense of the areas where you’d like NHF to focus in the longer term?

I do. Ideally, I would love to see NHF return to its foundational roots and focus more intently on research. Our team is great at getting our guests transitioned into both interim and permanent housing, but what happens to them after that? Are they successful in remaining housed, or do they cycle back into periods of homelessness? It would be a great tool for us and our stakeholders to better understand the complete lived experience of the individuals we serve.