County grants $3 million to St. Thomas University hub commissioner will run
Miami Gardens-based St. Thomas University will get up to $3 million in Cares Act funds to develop a new pandemic and disaster research center whose director will soon be the city’s immediate former mayor and new county commissioner.
Miami-Dade commissioners Oct. 26 unanimously approved the county’s grant agreement with the private Catholic school through a resolution by Commissioner Barbara Jordan and Vice Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.
Ms. Jordan leaves office this month due to term limits. Her successor, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, accepted the job of executive director of St. Thomas’s Center for Pandemic, Disaster and Quarantine Research in July.
Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson fast-tracked the resolution, first assigned to county attorneys Oct. 13, to a full and final vote without committee review or the ability to be deferred through a state-of-emergency provision she and her peers passed in March.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” said Todd Clark, the center’s co-chairman and a law professor at the school. “We kind of look at this situation as though we are architects and we have a chance to build a bridge [to move] us from a situation of Covid to prosperity.”
St. Thomas began plans for the center in late April, a county memo said, “to track the impact of emerging, expanding and extended pandemics and disasters on all socio-economic aspects of society,” including their influence on “business practices, ethical decision-making, consumer behaviors, crime, societal norms and biases, climate, law, health, government, international relations and the economy.”
The fund, which St. Thomas requested, are to go toward:
■Creating an on-campus “Covid community center facility,” which will “operate as the central hub for providing direct business, legal, health and data tracking and analysis resources to the community” and serve as a site where “high risk/underserved populations [can] gain support and assistance for Covid-related issues,” St. Thomas’ grant proposal said.
■Providing resources to community organizations that serve high-risk populations.
■Hiring two clinical faculty positions: a “Covid opportunity access clinician,” who is to “assist the community with dealing with non-health related issues created by Covid”; and a “Covid health law clinician,” who is to “focus on promoting system-level expertise consultation regarding Covid-based health care policy to assure and improve access to care for residents in our community experiencing Covid.”
■Establishing “technological infrastructure” to best collect, analyze and interpret Covid-19 data from the community and support the creation of an open data platform “to allow residents to access meaningful Covid-based data on one webpage, create reports and download information relating to outbreaks, financial resources and other important alerts.”
The resolution also stipulates that the mayor’s office must provide written monthly reports on the status of the county’s grant negotiations with St. Thomas until an agreement is reached, after which the university is responsible for providing reports at the same regularity.
St. Thomas President David Armstrong, who joined Mr. Clark and center Co-Chairman Jose Rocha in speaking in support of the grant agreement during the virtual meeting last month, said the goal was “to provide a beacon of hope” to communities impacted by the pandemic.
“Our faculty and students are excited about the prospect of your generous support and eagerly anticipate establishing creative mechanisms for effectively utilizing the resources of the grant consistent with the established guidelines,” he said.
Mr. Rocha said, “We would like to have a meaningful impact not only for our undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students but also, through their work, we want to have a meaningful impact in our community of Miami Gardens.”
Mayor Gilbert, a University of Miami-trained lawyer, did not speak on behalf of the item last month.
In a September interview with Miami Today, he described his role as “sitting in a room with a bunch of smart people trying to figure out how the pandemic affected us and planning for how our societal institutions, from business to parks to police to government, everything, can plan if something like this happens again.”