26Health Patient Care Team Connects Patients with Services
Maria Garcia-Rolon remembers her father telling her, “Make sure you love what you do. That way, you’ll never work a day in your life.” She has taken this advice seriously — so much so that she says she can’t wait to get to bed every night … so she can wake up and go to work the next day.
As the associate director of patient care at 26Health, she leads a team that assists clients of the Orlando nonprofit health clinic. Her job is to help people connect with services that enable them to live a more fulfilling life. Some of those clients are LGBTQ+ and don’t feel comfortable in the mainstream healthcare system. Others are from underserved communities, such as migrant farmworkers, who don’t have ready access to health care services because of financial, transportation, education or language barriers.
“My father was a doctor, and the memories of my conversations with him are something I hold very dear to my heart,” says Garcia-Rolon, who lost her dad at a young age. “I admired the passion he had in working with his patients. I remember him telling me, ‘I went into this profession not to make money, but to help people,’ and that’s stuck with me. That’s why I went into this field, because I want to be someone who makes a difference and helps people as well.”
A Bridge to Health Care
Her team at 26Health includes six patient care coordinators and an administrative assistant. “Our department works as a real team,” Garcia-Rolon says. “We put team effort into everything we do.”
Their job is to serve as a bridge between 26Health’s medical clinic and behavioral health services. “We connect patients from medical who need assistance and behavioral,” she says. “We try to do a warm handoff from one department to another to make it as seamless for them as possible. If they don’t have insurance, we try to assist them with that as well.”
The department also hosts presentations to educate patients and clients in areas such as budgeting, career preparation, resume writing and job interviewing. During the height of COVID-19, sessions included how to best present themselves in a virtual job interview — right down to the details of what to wear and how to adjust the lighting for a professional appearance on the computer screen. Presentations also include topics for the LGBTQ+ community such as a name change clinic that includes filling out legal paperwork and having it notarized right there on-site.
Additionally, 26Health operates a clothing bank called Evolution where transgender clients in transition can obtain clothing without feeling judged. It also carries toiletries, makeup, shoes and accessories.
An emergency pantry on-site helps patients who need food assistance, and 26Health’s outreach department goes out into communities to help people who otherwise might not have easy access to health care. For instance, the department provides free services for farmworkers, offering testing for HIV and other illnesses, as well as health screenings for glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. People whose tests show reactive results are linked with their own primary care physician or connected with 26Health for help.
“I want the community to know that we are 100%-plus invested in improving mind, body and spirit health here in Central Florida for not only the LGBTQ+ communities, but also for allies,” Garcia- Rolon says. “We want to target all of the marginalized communities that don’t have access to regular health care.”
Garcia-Rolon has always worked in the nonprofit sector and loves to share the story about how she got to 26Health. She moved to Central Florida in 2002 from New Jersey, where she had been working at the Dickinson Adolescent Health Center at a high school in Jersey City. The operation’s main office and high school clinic provided everything from internal medicine, family planning, prenatal care and pediatrics to gynecological services, HIV testing, mental health services and a teen center.
“When I moved to Florida, I was looking to do something similar here,” she says. “I was fortunate to come across the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention, where I started as a dental coordinator helping clients who needed assistance with dental services.” The nonprofit offers non-clinical culturally and linguistically sensitive outreach services to diverse populations in Central Florida.
After two years, she moved to a position as a housing case manager with the City of Orlando, where she worked for 10 years. During that time, she met a person she helped. They stayed in touch, and he joined 26Health, where he brought her in to work for his department.
“It has come full circle for me,” she says. “He was my supervisor when I started at this company. To see someone go through a struggle and surpass it to reach a point in life where he is a success, to say the least, so gratifying. That person I helped back then was here today helping me to get into 26Health.
“That’s how I was able to be part of this great agency. I’m so grateful to him for bringing me here and opening my eyes to the need that I knew was out there in our community. I’m in a position to be able to reach out to different communities and have a better understanding of their needs. It’s gratifying to be able to help provide services for them and break down the barriers they encounter.”
More recently, another client she had been helping got a job with a local bank branch through a connection he made at a 26Health seminar on financial budgeting. He came into her office to tell her he’d been through the interview process and would be starting work there soon — and that he had actually received a second job offer that he would be turning down to take this one. “He told me, ‘Look how funny things are, because you always told me, “Don’t give up, don’t give up. There’s a door that closes but there’s another one that opens,” and I just held onto that.’
“When clients come in and give you such great news, that’s priceless,” she says. “You can’t put a price on how they feel and how they make you feel about their accomplishment. That’s one thing I just love about what I do.”