Central Florida Health Care’s Efforts Go Above, Beyond
by TIM CRAIG
As the region continues to navigate its way through the country’s health crisis, stories are emerging of people working together to go above and beyond the normal in order to meet the extreme. Central Florida Health Care prides itself in coming up with creative ways to provide care to its patients.
Moving beyond health care
“We have to be ready every day,” says CFHC Health Administrator Carrie Griner. “Every day is uniquely different, so we have to adjust to a new situation every day.”
Those daily adjustments recently included a regular CFHC patient who had been in Lakeland Regional after testing positive for COVID-19 was discharged — only to find out that their landlord had evicted them because of the illness. The CFHC staff found out the patient had been living out of their car.
“This is a senior citizen with continuing health issues,” Griner says. “Now that person finds themselves living out of their car. It became a possibly dangerous situation.”
Griner and her staff immediately sought out a solution. Despite several conversations with local organizations like the Homeless Coalition and the Polk County Health Department, neither could find a local solution.
“Polk County doesn’t have the same resources as some of the larger metropolitan areas nearby,” Griner says. “We needed a place to go to make the patient more comfortable, a place to manage the patient’s condition better than their car.”
More calls to nearby areas found a facility in Hillsborough County that specializes in people who have been discharged but have no place to go. They were able to get the patient into that facility and maintain the needed care.
“We are maintaining contact with the patient, making sure they are taking their medication and are in a good state of mind,” she says. “It has been exciting to see not only my staff, but all of the organizations involved come together to help this patient.”
The goal, says Griner, is that the patient will move back to Lakeland as their health improves. “This is his community, and he will still be our patient no matter the geographical location,” she says.
For Griner, who came from another CFHC facility to Lakeland in August, this experience has brought her closer to her staff.
“Having the few months’ lead time prior helped give me a chance to get to know everyone, but now I have seen the team come together,” she says. “We believe it is our role to problem-solve and navigate a complex healthcare system for patients who have seen their life shattered. It can be a challenge, but it is rewarding — situations like this help you know you’re in the right community.”
From helping the individual to serving the community
In late April, CFHC was contacted by the office of U.S. Rep. Darren Soto to inquire if the organization could provide its staff and mobile care units for use in testing centers at underserved communities in the area.
Enter Holly Vida — a relative newcomer to CFHC, but with experience in the process of bringing together different groups to accomplish one goal.
“We were able to bring a team together in a way that kept everyone safe, both our staff and the people getting tested,” she says. “We scouted locations that were familiar, yet able to handle both testing in the patient’s car as well as walkup traffic. We go where there is room.”
From community center parking lots, to large fields next to churches, to street-side parallel parking and school bus lines, finding locations was no easy feat.
And yet, Vida and the team were able to pull it off.
The testing process is relatively simple. The area is split into four sequential stations, where people are screened and, if they qualify, then register, get swabbed and are provided additional educational materials on what to do while they await their results. The trick comes in balancing the needs of the patients with the safety of workers.
“Once everyone got their masks and gloves on, and once they saw the process, our staff got energized by the task they were doing,” says Vida.
One group in particular gave each test site their own reason to smile, she says.
“The lab ladies — the ones who were taking the swab and getting the closest to the people’s faces — they were having the most fun,” she says. “They were playing music and dancing and singing; they were bringing light to what they were doing.”
The community response has been overwhelmingly positive at each of the six testing locations. One community has already been in contact with CFHC to invite them back. Vida says that there are plans for more testing sites at the end of May and into June.
“We are always about finding ways to help the community, so when this opportunity came up, everybody was on it,” she says.