The state of Florida is seeing unprecedented growth with a record population of 21 million as of 2017, and Alachua County and the broader Gainesville metro area are adding steadily to the Sunshine State’s appeal to newcomers. Since 2010, Alachua County’s population has increased 7.8 percent.
When you add an increasingly aging Baby Boomer population and more families to the area, the health needs of our community will multiply as well. Beyond greater Gainesville, more rural areas are also in need of services.
North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC) has been expanding its services to meet those needs while following the national trends. Some of the most pressing issues in healthcare include physician shortages in primary care and a number of medical specialties needed to care for the most vulnerable in our community.
NFRMC is growing in leaps and bounds. The hospital’s growth over the past few years can be seen all over the community with the openings of two freestanding ERs – the Millhopper ER and the West End ER — plus the hospital’s planned expansion of its main campus ER, an increase in parking and the addition of three floors to its South Tower.
These additional floors will house a new postpartum/antepartum unit, complemented by a nursery, which will position the hospital to offer Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) services. Already delivering the most babies in the community, the strengthening of the NICU services will allow NFRMC to serve the most vulnerable of neonates without having to transfer babies, allowing for a greater continuity of care for babies and their families.
A NICU is a high-risk nursery for babies who are born premature, have problems during birth or develop issues while still in the hospital.
For Caroline Lentz, the care provided by the NICU at North Florida Regional Medical Center was life-changing.
A mother of three boys, ages 6, 4, and 6 months, Caroline’s children were all premature births, which is a very frightening experience for parents, especially mothers. Caroline had high blood pressure and was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia with her first son, Tre, who she delivered at 34 weeks. Weighing in at 4 pounds, 11 ounces, Tre did not need the services of the NICU, but he did stay in the special care nursery. As a new mom, Caroline found the staff to be warm, helpful and accommodating.
“There are not enough wonderful things I can say about the entire staff in the NICU.There is a whole team of people caring for your baby and you are immediately involved in your baby’s care. You never feel detached from the process. The staff collaborates with you and involve you with your baby’s care.”
When she became pregnant with her second son, Lucas, she was classified as a high-risk pregnancy. In addition to her obstetrician, she also saw Dr. Rizwana Fareeduddin, a maternal fetal medicine physician who treats high-risk patients. NFRMC recruited Dr. Fareeduddin in 2014 to treat women with high-risk pregnancies. She works closely with the patient’s obstetrician to ensure coordinated care.
“With my second son, Lucas, I started having the same issues earlier,” Caroline said. “It was great having Dr. Fareeduddin already at North Florida and involved with my care. It gave me a reassurance, and it was nice having all of the providers in the same location.”
At 30-weeks’ gestation Caroline began having serious problems with decreased amniotic fluid. Lucas was born weighing 3 pounds, 4 ounces and immediately placed in the NICU.
“There are not enough wonderful things I can say about the entire staff in the NICU,” Caroline said. “There is a whole team of people caring for your baby and you are immediately involved in your baby’s care. You never feel detached from the process. The staff collaborates with you and involves you with your baby’s care. They will make sure you are comfortable, bring you your breast pump and encourage skin-to-skin contact as soon as you are able.”
By the time she was pregnant with Hayes, her third son, Caroline knew she could rely upon her providers to closely monitor her pregnancy. She developed high blood pressure early in her pregnancy and had to frequently visit the NFRMC labor and delivery unit to be monitored. She was on bedrest for almost four months.
When Hayes was born at 28 weeks, weighing 2 pounds, 7 ounces, Caroline was understandably concerned for the health of her baby.
“Although it is always scary to have a baby in the NICU, I was so relieved that Hayes was able to stay in the NFRMC NICU and not have to be transferred,” she said. “I knew from my previous experiences at the NFRMC NICU that my son would have the very best care, provided by staff I knew and trusted. They treated us like family.”
Hayes had to stay in the NICU for 65 days. And although it was a very frightening experience, Caroline said she will never forget the competent and thorough care she received, especially by one nurse in the NICU.
“At one point, Hayes was supposed to come home, but the stats on the monitor dropped quickly. The nurse immediately had to take him from me to get him to breathe. I was completely terrified, but I remember this nurse was so confident and calm that I was in awe,” Caroline said. “It’s experiences like that which affirm my complete admiration and gratitude for the entire NICU staff at NFRMC.”
Had his weight been any less, Hayes would have been transferred to a Level III NICU facility. This is one of the many reasons NFRMC is moving toward raising its status to a Level III NICU, and Fareeduddin is a key part of this expansion of maternal fetal services. Studies indicate significantly higher survival rates for low birth-weight babies born in hospitals offering Level III NICUs.
“Since I have been here, one of things that has made me happiest has been the way that the obstetrician community has come together so that high-risk patients can get the highest level of quality care,” Fareeduddin said. “In the NICU, we all work together. I am just one part of the puzzle. Everything we do is both patient-centered and family-centered. As we are working toward achieving Level III status, we are taking care of higher acuity infants. These babies have more needs, not just when they are in the NICU but after discharge as well.”
By delivering at a hospital with a Level III NICU, new mothers and babies are able to stay close to each other, so critical bonding can occur and potential health issues associated with transferring these extremely low birthweight infants are minimized.
Fareeduddin said future plans for maternal fetal services include providing more personalized care to mothers in the fourth trimester, or the three months after delivery, by focusing on mental health needs and other services and resources for mothers and families.
There are also plans to use social workers in the new NICU for families, since earlier stage preemies tend to create more stress and require greater resources. Studies have shown that parents of extremely premature babies have higher rates of depression, divorce and substance abuse, Fareeduddin said.
“We want to provide the highest level of support for families and ensure that we take care of mom before, during and after delivery,” she said. “We want to make sure we have a formalized process for these families.”
When an unprecedented medical emergency arises, time is of the essence, and receiving the quality care you deserve is of the utmost importance. North Florida Regional Medical Center’s (NFRMC) three full-service Emergency Departments are open 24/7 and offer a full range of capabilities – from adult to pediatric care. In addition, the freestanding locations also provide closer proximity to emergency care for those living in outlying areas.
When Gina Mott’s five-year-old son, Jesse, accidentally cut his hand, she knew he would need stitches. But it wasn’t just his hand she was worried about. Jesse is also autistic.
“He absolutely hates hospitals, and anything related to health care,” Gina said. “He throws a tantrum even when he has to visit his pediatrician for a check-up.”
From the moment they entered NFRMC’s Millhopper Freestanding Emergency Room, the staff went into action to accommodate Jesse’s needs and make him as comfortable as possible.
“As soon as he saw nurses and doctors in scrubs and medical garb, he absolutely freaked out,” Gina said. “I explained the situation to our nurse [Chris Luca] who immediately went in the other room and changed into his regular clothes. Jesse finally calmed down. The staff was so wonderful. They were all so amazing working with my son.”
The nurses and physician calmly took the time to explain to Jesse and Gina what they needed to do and how they were going to do it. This gave them the reassurance they needed.
Gina even used Facebook to thank the staff at the Millhopper ER for “making this experience a positive one for me and my son.”
Since July, the growth and forward trajectory of North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC) has been overseen by new CEO Eric Lawson. Lawson most recently served as the chief financial officer for HCA’s TriStar Division in Brentwood, Tenn., overseeing a division of 14 hospitals, 10 ambulatory surgery centers and 386 service providers.
But Lawson is not new to the Gainesville community. A veteran of HCA, he served as the chief financial officer and ethics and compliance officer at NFRMC from 2005-2012.
“The expansion of North Florida Regional Medical Center’s services is driven by HCA’s mission of ‘Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.’ This includes providing our world-class physicians and caregivers the most advanced facilities and equipment,” Lawson said.
Lawson explained that his desire to return to NFRMC as CEO was the hospital’s drive to not only provide the highest level of patient care to the communities of Greater Gainesville but to also continually improve the investment into their caregivers and team.
“North Florida Regional Medical Center would be nothing without the dedicated staff of our facilities — they are the lifeblood of what we do,” Lawson said. “We are here for our colleagues and our staff that go above and beyond for patients and their families. I feel it’s important for our culture to show every member of our staff — whether they are a physician, nurse, receptionist, environmental services staff or food services worker — that they are all a part of the healing process for our patients.”
Plans are also being made to serve a wider part of the community by providing maternal fetal care outside of the main campus in Gainesville, Lawson said.
“Because we are so committed to serving our community, we are expanding maternal fetal medicine and telemedicine in rural areas so that those patients do not always have to drive all the way to Gainesville for their care,” Lawson said. “In the spirit of our freestanding ERs, we are expanding our footprint to grow across our community.”
Part of this larger footprint is a primary care center on Tower Road, now under construction. Lawson said the opportunity to expand primary care to more residents in a more convenient location seemed like a natural fit. This also allows their expert physicians and staff to train the next generation of medical professionals.
“The new primary care facility will be part of our Graduate Medical Education program at North Florida Regional,” Lawson said. “Highly trained medical staff will be able to train new medical professionals who will hopefully stay in our community.”
Besides the maternal fetal expansion, the first phase of the $3 million ER expansion project, which was completed in July of 2018, includes a 4,000-square-foot addition that boasts five additional treatment rooms, dedicated lab, dedicated EKG, double the waiting room size, and three additional triage rooms. The expansion was designed to provide more effective and efficient care.
Recent nationally accredited services achieved by NFRMC include designation as a Comprehensive Stroke Center and the addition of advanced services in the Cardiovascular, Interventional Pulmonology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedic and Labor and Delivery areas.
“Our goal is to reduce wait times while still delivering efficient and quality healthcare,” said COO John Gerhold. “We hope that the expansion to our facility will better accommodate patients and visitors and allow for improved access for their healthcare needs.”
For longtime staff members like Sandra Daughtry, Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology, Vascular, Neuro and Sleep Disorders Center at NFRMC, the growth makes them proud to be a part of an organization who treats its patients like family.
“I have been blessed to be a part of this organization for 37 years. We have grown from a very small community hospital to a large community and regional hospital drawing patients from multiple counties and areas in Florida,” Daughtry said. “The commitment to our patients and to all of our customers, patients, physicians, employees, and anyone that walks through our doors is evidenced daily.”
Since NFRMC is also a part of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), it can collect more clinical data that can change how healthcare is delivered. Based on data, the hospital changed its protocol for dealing with sepsis, which is an overwhelming immune response to infection. As a result, NFRMC now has a real-time monitoring system called SPOT (Sepsis Prevention through Optimization of Therapy). SPOT’s early identification, coupled with rapid workflow, enables faster response to this lethal infection. This system has lowered mortality rates from sepsis across the HCA system because of a fast and coordinated team approach to dealing with this potentially deadly infection.
“Being a part of HCA gives us resources that allow us to tailor care for our patients based on the latest sound and proven data and trends,” Lawson said. “We are constantly practicing evidence-based medicine, and everyone on the medical team is a part of that and understands it. It’s about providing the safest patient care environment possible.”
Daughtry gladly welcomed Lawson back to the NFRMC family. She attests that the commitment that employees have is a tribute to the commitment from their leadership team.
“Eric Lawson has returned to his NFRMC family,” Daughtry said. “As he has returned, he has challenged us daily to remember and share the ‘why’ behind what we do, and to celebrate the successes, to strive to be the ‘best of the best’ in all areas, and to continue to provide extraordinary health care with unmatched dedication and compassion to all.”
Lawson also lauded the impact that NFRMC and its employees have had on Greater Gainesville and is excited to expand that reach.
“This hospital is so important to Gainesville and our surrounding communities,” Lawson said. “That is symbolized not only in our care but also in the way that so many of our staff members give back to the community through activities like the annual Heart Walk and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Our staff is dedicated to improving the lives of people in our community, and that is why we are so excited to expand our services to more of them.”
Another way NFRMC is re-investing in its staff is a residency program for nurses in their first year in the workforce. The program allows them to transition into their new roles and provides them enhanced education on the job.
“We are setting them up for success,” Lawson said.
Jeanie Harris, RN, has been a nurse at Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) for more than 13 years. FCS, located in North Florida Regional Medical Center’s (NFRMC) Cancer Center, is the hospital’s medical oncology partner in care.
In 2016, Harris experienced the other side of medical care when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. She also had breast reconstruction surgery using a bilateral DIEP flap – a technique where skin and tissue (no muscle) are taken from the abdomen to recreate the breast. Overall, she had three surgeries at NFRMC.
“The nurses at the hospital were worth their weight in gold,” Harris said. “The care I received before, during and after my surgeries was impeccable and compassionate.”
In November 2016, Harris began chemotherapy at FCS, which gave her a new perspective.
“We have very personalized and individualized care at a state-of-the-art facility,” Harris said. “When we meet a new patient, we greet each person as a real person and not just a number. I felt that, even as a patient, and realized how important that can be for patients and their families. A cancer diagnosis is so scary, and often patients and family members may not fully comprehend what they are going through. Now when I care for a patient, I have an added respect and awareness for how much personalized care means for patients.”
The growth of NFRMC is symbolized by its commitment to the local community and its patients, like Caroline Lentz and her babies, Gina Mott’s son Jesse and Jeanie Harris.
It is stories like these that make CEO Eric Lawson proud, and he wants to share that pride with all the staff at NFRMC. Daily meetings across the hospital begin with a “connect to purpose” where managers and employees are encouraged to share stories of success and impact.
“The story about our patient Gina and her son, shared on Facebook, being cared for so well at one of our local emergency rooms, is something in which we take great pride,” Lawson said. “We want to share our stories with our staff, our patients and the community. Our expansion is not about bricks and mortar; it’s about the people and the communities we serve.”