Central Florida Health Care Marks 50 Years of Serving Polk County
Celebrating its 50th year in operation in 2022, Central Florida Health Care (CFHC) continues to grow and expand the services it provides to residents in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.
When Chief Executive Officer Ann Claussen joined the health care provider in 2014, there were many opportunities, she said. “We had the opportunity to apply for new market tax credits. We went from six clinics to 15 now, from 220 employees to more than 500 now. For me, it has been a wonderful opportunity to grow quicker than we thought we could, and to provide more care to more people in the three counties.”
Last year, CFHC saw 64,000 patients in 210,000 visits, providing services that range from adult and pediatric primary care and OB/GYN to dental, social and mental health. “It’s really heartwarming to see that journey,” she said.
CFHC was founded in 1972, starting with a small clinic in Frostproof with one doctor and one nurse providing care. At the time, Minute Maid and Coca-Cola wanted to provide health-care services to their agricultural employees. The opportunity to expand upon that and move into multiple counties and cities has been wonderful, Claussen said, “taking something so small and recognizing such a need for it.”
Central Florida Health Care differs from other clinics because it serves a very unique patient population, Claussen said. “We serve a lot of people on Medicaid, the underinsured and the uninsured and homeless. That’s a unique niche – to be able to take care of a very large population that a lot of clinics aren’t set up to do. More and more people have struggled and are uninsured with no employment; they come to us with minimal requirements to have to pay.”
The health-care provider charges people on a sliding fee scale.
It does not try to compete with bigger clinics like Watson, Gessler and Bond, she said. “Even though we serve some of the same patients – we do take people with insurance – there is such a great need that we can’t even keep up with. It’s about collaboration, not a competition. If they need to refer to us or us to them, whatever it looks like, we do because there are plenty of patients to spread out and see.”
Local attorney J. Kemp Brinson, vice chairman of the CFHC’s board of directors, has served on the board since 2017. “Our health care system is full of roadblocks for patients, like insurance problems, transportation problems, language barriers, financial distress and even lack of education. Even when public programs like Medicaid provide funding, there can still be many logistical problems accessing care for struggling families.”
CFHC’s staff tries to break down those barriers to care, he said. “We don’t have to be profit-centered, so we can truly be patient-centered. I believe all human beings deserve access to health care, including dental and mental health services. I serve on the board because our mission aligns with that vision for how the world ought to work. I’m also a patient myself, so I know first-hand how great our clinics are.”
Of 15 clinics, 11 offer dental services by dentists and hygienists, Claussen said. “We have a full staff who can treat patients, which is good for oral health. Being able to add that was instrumental.”
It also offers prescription drugs through its 340B Drug Pricing program, which “allows CFHC to obtain medicine at a very discounted cost and push that discount on to patients to keep them healthy.” That helps people with diabetes, high blood pressure and other continuous medical afflictions. “A lot of time people don’t stay on their medications because they can’t afford them. We charge a couple dollars, and some medicines are free. That really helps us – it’s that wellness piece that we’re looking for to take care of our patients.”
It’s important for counties to have programs like Central Florida Health Care. “We are a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC); we receive funding from the federal government,” Claussen said. “As we continue to grow, that funding is a smaller piece of the overall organization.”
Last year, CFHC received $10 million to help people who fall 100% to 200% below the federal poverty line, she said. “It’s very important for us to be able to continue to qualify as a FQHC. Every three years we go through the grant process and reapply for funding. We have to meet quality measures and follow their compliance manual. They have a lot of policies and procedures that we have to go through and check off and do correctly or they can take our funding away. People may think we are just the free clinic down the street, but there is a lot we have to apply for so we can provide quality health care and have the best physicians, nurses, dentists and hygienists.”
In The School
For the last three years, CFHC has operated a clinic at Crystal Lake Elementary School, Community Partnership School in Lakeland.
“It’s going really well,” Claussen said. “We have been working together for three years now. We treat the community and the school.”
The center’s provider sees about 22 patients a day, she said. “As it grows, we can add more providers. We are still building trust with the community, answering ‘Why are we there?’ We continue to work on the marketing piece.”
The school should be accredited by October as a Community Partnership School, she said.
What It Does Best
Claussen said CFHC’s leadership team and employees talk a lot about the organization’s mission and vision, as well as its tagline: “Health Care with a Heart.”
“You have to have that passion to serve, so when we’re hiring, we talk about the need to have your heart in the right place to serve. We don’t want this to be a job, but a career. We want to show all of our patients how much we care.”
As a patient-centered operation that treats the entire family, CFHC tries to provide everything from OB-GYN and pediatrics to adult care so when a mother has a baby, both can be treated. It also offers a nutritionist, health education, case managers and navigators – people who help individuals overcome the barriers to quality care that Brinson discussed. Those barriers may also include things like transportation and child care.
Claussen said CFHC’s call center receives about 3,000 phone calls a day, most of whom are directed to navigators who become part of the patient’s health-care team. “We try to be a one-stop shop for the entire family and find out what other needs like housing and food people may have. If we can’t provide what they need, we can refer them to other organizations we collaborate with. If someone has just been diagnosed with cancer, we want to make a connection with Moffitt Cancer Center and help them get transportation there. If we can’t treat you for mental health issues, we can refer you to the Peace River Center or Tri-County Human Services.”
In providing care, CFHC is using a grant to partner its medical and dental programs, Claussen said. “In Lakeland, a hygienist has an exam room with all the medical pediatric providers. Some kids have never had a toothbrush. The hygienist does education, exams and refers them to a dentist. We are expanding it to other clinics.”
CFHC also has mobile units that go out and work with communities. During COVID, it worked with city officials and legislators to provide screening, testing, education and vaccines, she said.
CFHC likes to be on the forefront of what it does, which is one reason it offered to join the initiative to end hunger. “Can we do it?” Claussen said she asked. They found a way.
Partnering with the United Way and Feeding Tampa Bay through the George W. Jenkins End Hunger Initiative, the health-care provider oversees 10 Ending Hunger initiatives.
“We have a team that partners with churches and others to provide food for more than 200 families every other week,” Claussen said. “It’s had a huge impact and touched so many families in different ways. We partner with people we haven’t partnered with before. It’s turned into such a blessing.”
Claussen said she sees opportunities to grow in the future as the population in the three counties continues to explode. “We could add five more clinics tomorrow and we would still be at full capacity and wouldn’t be able to see everyone who needs to be seen. Our niche is crucial to be here and serve patients.”
CFHC will open a Davenport clinic in August 2022. “We need to figure out where the next locations need to be. It’s very expensive to open up a clinic – $3 million to open and staff it. So we have to make sure it makes sense. When we open, people will come.”
They knew there was a need in Davenport, she said. “We do needs assessments. What else is it that we need to do? We want to continue to grow strategically and be able to serve as many people as we can.”
Claussen said she’s “been blessed” to be in her position. “We have developed very strong leaders in the organization. With the directors we have, we have been able to make sure we have the right people in the right seat on the bus. If you don’t, you can’t grow and thrive. We need to surround ourselves with people who have the same vision and passion for what we’re doing.”