by Haris M. Domond, Board Chair for Healthcare Network
Nationally, federally qualified health centers like Healthcare Network provide preventive and comprehensive primary care services to almost 30 million people per year, and that critical work has persisted in the face of the global pandemic.
For over 50 years, the nearly 1,400 health centers across the country have been joined together by the shared values of health equity and social justice in healthcare. Now, more than ever, health centers remain rooted in this foundation – caring for those who disproportionately suffer from chronic diseases and poorer health outcomes.
Healthcare Network has been serving the migrant, rural and underserved Collier County population since 1977 with the belief that the health of all of us depends on each of us.
“The pandemic has only widened the health and economic disparity, and groups considered at-risk before the pandemic are now struggling most,” said Dr. Emily Ptaszek, president and CEO of Healthcare Network. “Healthcare Network has worked hard to fulfill its commitment to make healthcare accessible to everyone, regardless of income, job or insurance status.”
Since the pandemic started, Healthcare Network has been administering free COVID-19 tests via community events and in-practice testing; launching medical and behavioral telehealth services to ensure patients do not miss essential check-ups; and offering free mental health appointments to essential frontline workers.
The organization’s COVID-19 Response Team, a group of community health workers dedicated to breaking down barriers to care and increasing COVID-19 testing, education and outreach programs throughout Collier County, provides door-to-door outreach using culturally appropriate educational materials and messaging. When identified, the team also helps families connect with local resources for physical and mental health, and food and housing assistance.
The multilingual team manages Healthcare Network’s COVID-19 Resource Line to answer questions from the community and provide information on local resources and testing locations. The COVID-19 Resource Line is available by phone at 239.675.7080 or by email at HCNcovid@HealthcareSWFL.org.
Healthcare Network is playing a significant role in COVID-19vaccination education and administration.
“We have been working closely with the Department of Health – Collier County to administer the vaccine to more people in our community including those living in underserved areas such as Immokalee,” said Ptaszek.“We have seen how collaboration with other trusted community organizations is critical to formulating the individualized, community-based approach needed to achieve equity in vaccine administration.”
Healthcare Network will continue to serve vulnerable populations, including providing quality healthcare to nearly 50 percent of Collier County’s children and filling a vital role in keeping the community healthy, which improves employee and school attendance and benefits local businesses.
“When the risk of the pandemic passes, we will likely see peaks of other illnesses and chronic disease related to deferred primary care,” Ptaszek said. “We will be here for our community and have taken steps to address a looming mental health crisis resulting from isolation, change and stress by offering free mental health resources to essential workers.”
Healthcare Network patients benefit from its integrated behavioral health model, where patients are screened for mental and behavioral health issues during regular primary care appointments. If necessary, patients can seamlessly begin treatment with on-staff mental health providers. The model is effective because many patients come to primary care seeking relief for physical symptoms that are related to mental, behavioral and psychosocial problems.
Alternatively, illness can lead to depression, stress or other behavioral health issues.
Haris Domond is a certified mental health counselor and board chair for Healthcare Network.