Forty percent of Americans are just one unexpected $400 health expense from a financial crisis, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. About 13% of Floridians were uninsured as of 2017, as reported by the Florida Policy Institute. The story those numbers tell is a harsh reality in the current conversation about health care, already not an easy one to have — but there is a bright spot to be found in Central Florida’s fourth-largest nonprofit, Community Health Centers.
Working since 1972 to keep the humanity in health care, CHC has always been in tune with these hard truths. But its story, and the one it has helped write for Central Florida, is about solving those challenges one person at a time. Beginning with just one office in partnership with the Farmworkers Association, CHC has worked to bring compassionate health care to those who have limited access to medical services, whether it is because of a lack of insurance, prejudices of the time or socioeconomic class. At the core of a complicated conversation, CHC keeps it simple: Providing health care means providing comfort, patience and family to all.
The Whole Patient, the Whole Treatment
Now operating 13 centers throughout Central Florida, CHC continues its original mission of bringing health care to all, including those without insurance, people on Medicaid and people on traditional health care plans. The centers often offer co-located services with family medicine, dental care, optometry, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, internal medicine, behavioral health and a pharmacy in one building.
“We don’t differentiate. Health centers serve everyone, regardless of ability to pay or insurance status,” said Margaret Brennan, CEO of Community Health Centers. “They increase access to healthcare and provide integrated services based on the unique needs of the communities they serve. It’s about caring for the whole person, making sure people know they are respected.”
And caring for people, for Brennan and her team, means understanding their lives. No one exists in a vacuum, and there are countless factors contributing to people’s physical, mental and emotional health. Beyond just diagnosing and treating a patient, CHC’s holistic approach goes beyond the services offered and extends to how each person is treated. To reinforce this, CHC has long been making use of electronic storage of all the patients’ records — including the very first integrated medical and dental electronic health records in the nation. Previous ailments, diagnoses and other records are available to better inform the doctor and better treat the patient.
“Our centers are truly places where the patient can access care across a spectrum of services,” Brennan said. “Dental, eye care, primary care, behavioral and pharmacy services being available without leaving the center is perhaps the most holistic offering in Central Florida. We know there are many other factors that impact health status such as employment, housing, transportation, food insecurities and family support. Closing medical care gaps and implementing programs to enhance the wellness of our patients is mission-critical.”
Brennan, who will retire in January 2020 after over 30 years of experience in management in health care, has found her own kind of home with CHC thanks to her team — and she has faith that those team members will continue to instill that same trust with every patient.
“Every day, someone tells me about a patient story or something positive within our organization, and it brings me so much joy to my heart to hear about the impact we make in our patients’ lives,” Brennan said. “I cannot succeed alone, and our workforce is amazing — a leadership team that is extremely talented and team members who are passionate and loyal.”
Working with Neighbors
Creative collaboration and integration have led to remarkable ideas with CHC’s partners as well. Brennan points to a unique program that encourages diabetic patients to come in for a baseline lab and then gives them vouchers to a food bank for a family of four. They are then encouraged to come back for a follow-up, where they can receive another voucher.
“It encourages patients to come to us to talk about their health status,” Brennan said. “The food bank is making sure the clients are going to a location where they have access to nutritious food to sustain their progress.”
Social service agencies provide assistance as well, such as county government programs that are equipped to step in with resources or pay a home visit to alleviate issues that may be one of the root causes of the diagnosis.
Other partnerships include Orlando Health and AdventHealth, which both have provided funding and collaborated with CHC to place a nurse in their hospitals who can follow up with patients and direct them to resources at the center to sustain treatment. Programs in partnerships with the University of Florida and Valencia College allow nursing students to learn in the clinics.
“We believe in not only taking care of the patients who come into our door, but of those outside of us as well,” Brennan said. “That is an important part of caring about your community — inside of and outside of your own walls.”
This article appears in the September edition of i4 Business.