Florida Hospital’s Respiratory Therapists Volunteer Above and Beyond
Millions of Floridians are uninsured and without health care. At Florida Hospital, providers noticed too many respiratory patients were leaving the hospital with prescriptions for medications they could not afford. Without access to necessary medications, these patients had a greater likelihood of returning to the emergency department or being readmitted to the hospital. Even patients who weren’t readmitted were not enjoying the quality of life that could be possible with the right medications and medical care.
In response, Florida Hospital’s respiratory therapists have volunteered to help uninsured patients get the care they need after they are discharged from the hospital. The Apopka Community Lung Clinic opened in July 2013, supported by grant funding from the Community Health Impact Council. The Apopka Community Lung Clinic opened in July 2013, supported by grant funding from the Community Health Impact Council. The grant is funded by Florida Hospital as a part of the organization’s commitment to improving the health of the community. Initially opened in the local high school, the clinic has since moved to a more central location with easy access to bus routes. The free clinic is open several nights a week, and provides follow-up care, free medications, disease management and pulmonary rehabilitation. More than 100 respiratory therapists who work at Florida Hospital’s eight Orlando-based hospitals volunteer their services to provide free care at the clinic. In addition, nearly 100 non-clinical volunteers serve as interpreters, help with office functions and support two part-time Advance Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) who work under the guidance of the department’s medical director Jorge Hernandez, MD.
Patients in need of the clinic are identified by working closely with case managers at Florida Hospital’s eight Orlando hospital facilities, which ensures they are seen by a respiratory therapist and nurse practitioner within a few days of discharge from the hospital. Patients are also referred from other local hospitals, or they can simply walk into the clinic without a referral. Respiratory therapists provide follow-up care, educate patients about how to use their inhaled medication devices and help patients access much needed medications. The clinic is also expanding to offer pulmonary rehabilitation, case management and a comprehensive smoking cessation program.
Partnerships with pharmaceutical companies are essential to success. From July 2013 through May 2014, the Apopka Community Lung Clinic has helped patients access more than $702,800 of free medications. Patients receive medications for a full year at no cost thanks to partnerships that allow the clinic to save its grant funding for other critical equipment such as nebulizer compressors and oxygen concentrators.
One of the clinic’s primary goals is to reduce hospital readmissions, meaning that patients leave the hospital, remain healthy and don’t return to the hospital. Before the clinic opened, more than 20 percent of all Florida Hospital’s patients discharged with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) were readmitted to a hospital within 30 days. Since the clinic opened in July 2013, only three of the clinic’s patients have been readmitted to the hospital, a rate of less than one percent.
A large part of the clinic’s success is due to the commitment of the volunteer respiratory therapists, who go above and beyond to help patients in need. One 62-year-old man who was in remission from lung cancer and also suffered from COPD could not find transportation. Florida Hospital’s Administrative Director of Respiratory Care Ed Fluker and one of the nurse practitioners agreed to meet the patient at the clinic at night to accommodate his transportation schedule. Fluker recalls that “He only had four puffs of albuterol left in his inhaler and had a bag with at least eight different empty containers of sample medications. He could not get the medications he needed anywhere because, although he had Medicaid, he could not afford his monthly share of the cost.” They gave him an aerosol treatment the clinic, and then called GlaxoSmithKline and were able to qualify the patient for a year’s worth of medication, free of charge. The prescriptions were ready for him to pick up at a nearby pharmacy as soon as he left the clinic. According to Fluker, “If we had not seen him at the clinic that night, his only alternative would have been to go to the Florida Hospital Apopka emergency department. He would have been discharged with prescriptions that he would not have been able to fill.”
Since opening in July, the Apopka Community Lung Clinic has served more than 165 patients. Nearly 80 percent of the patients are enrolled in a pharmaceutical support program. Employees have volunteered more than 1,820 hours, and for every dollar of expense, $11.04 of value were provided to patients through free care, medications and equipment. Most of all, patients report that the care provided at the clinic has changed their lives.