Diabetes Center of Excellence to Provide Multidisciplinary Approach
by K. MICHELE TRICE
With more than 15 percent of Polk County residents having been diagnosed with diabetes, there is a distinct need for quality health care that focuses on the illness. Central Florida Health Care is working to address that need by creating a Diabetes Center of Excellence.
Central Florida Health Care has fifteen locations in Polk County and the Central Florida area, including locations in Lakeland and Winter Haven, both of which will be included in the new Diabetes Center of Excellence.
“Having a Diabetes Center of Excellence at our Lakeland and Winter Haven Health Centers will provide a multidisciplinary healthcare approach to addressing the early intervention/prevention needs for our diabetic population,” says Ann Claussen, Chief Executive Officer for Central Florida Health Care.
Claussen says that in 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau identified approximately 787,404 people living in Polk County and approximately 121,260 of them have been diagnosed with diabetes. In addition, Florida Health Charts in 2021 showed the age-adjusted death rate from diabetes had increased in the past five years from 24.7 percent to 29.2 percent.
“In addition to having multi-disciplinary services at both locations, we will also be able to provide telehealth visits with Dr. [Jessica] Castellanos, our endocrinologist who started practicing with us in July of this year,” Claussen continues.
Claussen has a personal passion for diabetes education and care. Her sister was diagnosed with diabetes, and Claussen served on Gov. Jeb Bush’s Diabetes Council.
Central Florida Health Care’s primary population includes many who are underserved by the medical community.
“Everyone deserves quality care,” Claussen says. “For that population, they sometimes have problems getting quality care and their medication.”
In their 15 locations, 10 have pharmacies on site with pharmacists who are able to answer patient questions.
“We know more and more people are moving into Polk County and Central Florida,” she says. “There are a lot of people who don’t have health care. We have case managers available to meet with all patients to help them find assistance they might be eligible for. Many don’t have the resources to know where to go.”
She says there are not enough providers for their service population, which presents a challenge. Hiring Castellanos allows patients with diabetes to access specialized care.
“We want to serve the entire family,” Claussen says of the Federally Qualified Health Center, which is both Joint Commission Accredited and Patient Centered Medical Home Certified.
“Encouraging preventive care, such as check-ups for our patients, can help to identify early signs of diabetes, which gives us the opportunity to help educate our patients via our certified dietician/nutritionist, primary care provider,” she says. “Our endocrinologist can work with them on healthy living activities that can help reduce the diagnosis of diabetes and/or minimize additional health issues for our patients.”
The Diabetes Center of Excellence will span two locations — Lakeland and Winter Haven. The Lakeland center will replace the current Lakeland facility. It will be a larger facility with a teaching kitchen, featuring medical, dental care, a pharmacy, an ob-gyn, and pediatric care.
“That site is our largest location,” Claussen says. “It is located in an area where we have a lot of people who walk or take the bus.”
The Winter Haven location will incorporate administrative offices as well as medical functions. They hope to break ground on both locations next summer.
“There’s so much more we could be doing,” she says. “The biggest challenge is simply the funds to build. We can staff it and make it work.”
These new facilities are being constructed as part of a capital campaign. Additional funds have been secured through grants.
“We continue to be a well-kept secret,” Claussen says. “We continue to come across so many people who don’t know who we are. We aren’t the free clinic. We qualify everyone for their ability to pay for coverage.”
“We are continuing to try to elevate our story and to be able to educate everyone to know the value and service we bring to Polk, Highlands, and Hardee counties,” she continues.
In Polk County alone, Central Florida Health Care sees approximately 70,000 patients, with that number continuing to grow.
“We are working to be sustainable,” she explains. “This capital campaign is going to be so important. There are individuals out there who would want to help if they knew our story. We have been around 51 years. We’re not going away. We are doing really well as we grow. We focus on customer service, being efficient, and being sustainable.”
“My dream is to have more space to see more patients,” she says. “My goal is that we can be known as a place for people to go for quality health care, a place where you can bring your whole family.”
“We can be that place where people can go for quality health care regardless of their ability to pay,” she says.