It’s been said there are angels on earth masquerading as people. And many of them are working together through Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida and Youth Haven. No partnership doles out heartwarming goose bumps like the partnership between these two organizations.
Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida is a private not-for-profit organization and provides primary medical and dental care
through 13 locations throughout Collier County and includes the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile®. Four main service areas
include children’s care, family care, women’s care and dental care. Insured and uninsured patients are welcome. Youth Haven is a residential emergency shelter for boys and girls aged 6 to 16. As a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment, these children have been removed from their homes.
Children who enter Youth Haven – often as a result of unimaginable cruelty and injury – must receive a physical within 72 hours of arrival. Many area physicians have a month or more turn around to see a new patient – but Dr. Sara Lane, a pediatrician at Healthcare Network in Central Naples makes herself available. She sees the Youth Haven kids and takes that part of her job to heart.
“When I began working at the company at Healthcare Network, I learned that these kids come from broken homes and some have been in the system a long time,” says the passionate physician. “For some of the kids, no one in their lives has ever stopped to talk heart and lungs, the most basic physical and some have never had medical care.”
Dr. Lane is making a major difference in the lives of these children just by doing her job every day. But it goes so much further than just a physical exam or quick question and answer session. She talks to the children and asks them about what they have been through. Often times, they have gone without the most basic treatment for everything from sinus or sight problems to lack of dental care – some children come in literally with their teeth rotting out of their mouths. All receive the respect and treatment they need to launch them on a path of recovery.
“The neat thing that I provide is I’m like their private pediatrician – they are part of our medical home and we have their history
and for the first time probably, someone understands their medical care,” says Dr. Lane. All of the children get to come to the same location – something which may seem small, but is actually a mammoth benefit. “Consistency is so important to these kids,” says Jinx Liggett, Dr. Lane’s angelic counterpart at Youth Haven and the director of the organization.
Both women are humble and would never admit to angelic behavior of course, but the hundreds of children they’ve saved might beg to differ. “These are incredibly traumatized kids and while we first opened years ago for children put into the jail system for protection,” says Liggett.
Often the children are in danger from their own parents. “Dr. Lane sees every single one of our children for their physical needs and those needs can be significant – for example, we are creating a new homeless shelter for kids here.”
Technically those children are homeless either removed because of some kind of abuse, failed placement such as a foster care situation gone wrong for whatever reason. “We are all about normality for our kids and Healthcare Network is a big part of that,” says Liggett. Dr. Lane and the people at Healthcare Network hear their stories. They empathize with their pain. They care. A lot. Louis Traina, who is the executive director of the Foundation for Healthcare Network, which is a separate 501(c)(3) serving the mission of Healthcare Network, a Federally Qualified Health Center, is excited to keep the mission growing for Youth Haven children.
“The medical care provided by Healthcare Network for the children at Youth Haven illustrates how one charity can help another charity,” he said. “It fulfills our mission to strengthen the network so that every child has access to quality healthcare, especially those who have been severely traumatized and in crisis.”
“We do get a lot of teenagers and they trust me, and it is nicer for them to come to someone they trust when there are not a lot of options for these girls,” says Dr. Lane.
“Despite what they’ve endured, these are incredibly polite, funny kids and I enjoy talking with them.”
Many of the children – who come to Youth Haven abused in different ways require complicated care, but Healthcare Network also provides through Dr. Lane beneficial preventative medical care.
“The medical implications are that these kids’ needs have not been met and there has been no consistent care – they might need glasses but no one took them to get glasses – they are at high risk for depression and anxiety and there are genetic issues,” says Dr. Lane. “Further, medicines are often not followed from house to house as these kids have been shuffled around.”
Youth Haven children have often never had anyone ask them what they want out of life – every day is strictly about surviving – making it to the next day. Finding food and avoiding abuse rule their lives.
“To provide guidance and address any issues, every child deserves to have complete medical care, and we take care of one runny nose at a time,” Dr. Lane says. “They are good kids getting the kind of care they need from Healthcare Network and they are patients, just like everyone else.”
Dr. Lane doesn’t just see Youth Haven children. She is accepting new patients and sees children from all areas of town for school physicals, well visits and treatment.
“Within 72 hours our kids are seen at Healthcare Network and they don’t come with a set of health records – and often times, the abuse and neglect is not just one thing, not just one crisis,” Liggett explains. “Some of these parents are at risk of losing their house, have no money and no jobs—then there is hunger yet they don’t have a computer to access food stamps and don’t have the thinking power to figure out what to do next.”
All of these issues manifest in the children’s emotional and sometimes physical issues. “These families are dealing with the simplest necessities and thought process, and since recovery has been slow we have seen a big spike,” says Liggett. “But everything that has to do with a youngster comes together and we all talk about it including Dr. Lane.”
The children of Youth Haven spend their lives asking painful questions. How can this happen to me? Where will I go? Is this fair?
Liggett has one of those answers – it is anything but fair. But with people like Dr. Lane and her staff at Youth Haven and the many facets of the partnership, the kids get a first shot at a fighting chance.
“For us it is all about embracing the whole child and that certainly includes the physical health, and that is just one reason we are so grateful for this partnership with Healthcare Network,” says Liggett.
Dr. Lane receives information on the children as well and provides that pediatric component. “She has taken these kids under her wings and the shelter staff calls her all of the time and she responds,” Liggett says about Heathcare Network. “Just the shelter kids average length of stay is 60 days and they are under Dr. Lane’s care that whole time. The beauty of our relationship with Healthcare Network is understanding and quality service for the kids and that dialogue between caregivers inside the shelter and Dr. Lane, which is critically important.”
Healthcare Network President and CEO Richard Akin recognizes the important role his organization plays in helping the Youth Haven kids. “We serve a number of charities and public schools with both medical as well as dental in seeing 32,000 children per year,” he said. “Youth Haven is one example of the service we provide.”