On July 18, 2023 VHA President Peter Russell welcomed a full room of VHA Leaders and explained the new format of this quarterly meeting. Peter introduced the featured speaker Heather Long CEO UF Health Central Florida to provide information to VHA Leaders including Neighborhood Representatives. UF Health Central Florida primarily includes The Villages Hospital, Leesburg Hospital and the Brownwood Free-standing ER. Representing the hospital system along with Heather Long were Dr. John Davidyock, Sr. VP and Chief Physician Executive; Cheryl Chestnutt, Chief Clinical Officer, The Villages Hospital; and Kimberly Kapes – VP Medical Group & Strategic Services Line.

Heather began by sharing a recent email from a patient who when coming back to The Villages hospital two years later, saw noticeable improvements. She showed a brief inspirational video focusing on the extensive, innovative, patient-centered UF Health System of which Central Florida is a part. Its main message “Moving forward together – UF Health as a team & community.” The UF Health difference is to create confidence, owning the moment and making meaningful personalized connections. This segued into the UF Health Mission to improve quality of life of the individuals served and the Vision to strive toward improving “individual and community health through discovery, clinical and translational science and technology, exceptional education and patient-centered innovative, high-quality health care.”

Heather explained that improvements face many challenges. Covid-19 and its variations totally consumed activities during 2020 and 2021 creating anxiety for the patients and exhaustive pressure on the Hospital Staff. If that wasn’t enough, on Heather’s first day joining UF Health Central Florida, June 1, 2021, there was a cyber-attack that led to several months of recovery. Additionally, coming out of the pandemic providers needed to be motivated to get back into the community. Our priorities include building a top performing team, elevating care delivery, and building our future. Heather noted she meets with every new employee and again with them 45 days later. She asks the employee how things are going and what is needed. By asking the new hire to imagine “become CEO” and explain how things need to be done provides feedback to use toward improvements. Efforts are made to build team trust and create confidence among team members. In June 2022 the turnover rate for Registered Nurses was 36.3%. In June 2023 it was 18.5% a decline of 17.8%. The goal is to reach 14%. We hear a lot about the CMS 5-Star Measures which are public facing. The major quality categories are: Mortality, Readmissions, Efficiency, Patient Experience and Safety. Metrics are evaluated year-over-year. As there is a multi-year lag in CMS reporting, ratings today (2023) reflect performance data from 2018 through 2021. In 2022-2023, performance is above the national average for reduced mortality and readmissions. The team is aggressively pursuing improvements in the other areas in pursuit of 4- and 5-Star Ratings.

Plans now include UF Health working with the Developer to address growth and efficiency. Some options being evaluated are combo urgent care / ER facilities, build micro hospitals and expand existing facilities. The new Brownwood ER on SR 44 has received a performance score of 97%. Ground Transport from the Brownwood freestanding Emergency Department to the helicopter is no longer needed as a landing pad at the ER has been completed. That ER will be expanding from 16 rooms to 28 rooms by January 2024. By September 30, The Hospital’s critical care centers will provide 24/7 coverage. New physicians are being aggressively recruited. Coming in 2024 is a Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit (only the second one in Florida). UF Health Central Florida has added seven (7) ambulances across Sumter and Lake County to transport patients efficiently between the UF Health facilities.

The formal presentation was followed by a Question and Answer session:
Q. What methods are used for recruiting?
A. There is a recruitment team, which reaches out to respective groups, contacts with the University of Florida, conferences and social media. Even though there is a shortage, UF Health is very selective and does not accept everyone.

Q. With capacity changes from in-season and off-season, what can be done to educate patients to the difference between urgent-care and emergency-care?
A. Leesburg Hospital has established a fast track triage system. There is also an Urgent Care at Leesburg. Adding beds to the Brownwood ER facility will help. The Villages Hospital has some fast track but the goal is to increase it.

Q. Do you hire medical Residents?
A. We have put this on hold for a while.

Q. How does the Village of Middleton affect your physician recruitment?
A. We are looking to add pediatrics and working with Dr. Lester on this.

Q. Is there still a plan for a third hospital?
A. This project in on pause. We are concentrating on staffing and working through discussion of health care options for The Villages.

Q. With many physician groups in the area, how do you coordinate with them?
A. Efforts are made to coordinate with Villages Health physicians, independent physicians and UF Health physicians. We meet with like specialties in the effort to set the same goals. We work to reconnect with the independent physicians to bring them into coordinating.

Q. What can be done about Urgent Cares available during a weekend?
A. We are working on this.

Heather concluded by holding up a three-page email sent recently and explaining this patient had been in The Villages hospital 3-years ago and planned to never come back to it. Recently this person visited a patient in The Village hospital and stated having a transformed impression seeing the exceptional changes for the better. Heather noted the goal of UF Health is to strive for best care.

Peter concluded this meeting thanking Heather and her colleagues. Peter emphasized that VHA Leaders and VHA Neighborhood Representatives need to share this information from today’s meeting with The Villages residents.