Rita Smith has been married to the same man for 65 years.
That accomplishment alone, she said, qualifies her to be treated like a queen. That’s why she’s now a resident at Brookdale’s Pinecrest Place, a senior living community in Largo that was the last stop on a fact-filled Health Day for the Class of ‘18.
With a schedule tighter than an otter’s pocket, the Health Day committee, including program chairs Tammy Robiconti ’16 and Bill Sedey ’14, did fantastic work making sure the Class of ‘18 got to see everything from every angle.
The day started at the foot of the hospital bed of an animatronic boy, pictured above. When he blinked, a few of us were caught off guard and an audible gasp ruffled from our direction.
Creepy, yet striking, this marvel of modern medicine sat before us at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg exhaling CO2 as it waited to be programmed with a life or death scenario for doctors working to perfect their skills.
Melissa Jo Powell, advanced education specialist at the hospital, explained how 3D printing was making these $50,000 animated patients more affordable and more customizable.
Young patients and their maladies might soon be able to be completely duplicated into these plastic patients so that procedures can be practiced by surgeons in all their complexity before actually operating on a live patient.
From one marvel to the next, we continued to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Jason Parker, nearing the end of a shift that began the day before, explained the difference between heart failure and heart defects. Treating heart defects in newborns and the young is the specialty of this department, he said. The fact that children are practically their only patients must make their work that much more personal.
A few families fluttered through the halls. They had that look parents get when their child is in the hospital. It’s a look that says “This is my worst day.” It’s unmistakable to those of us that have been there before.
Seeing people on what could be their worst day is something the volunteers and staff at the Clearwater Free Clinic are familiar with. With one-quarter of the county not having health insurance, the clinic acts as a chronic-care facility for many of the county’s most vulnerable.
In introducing Jeannie Shapiro, CEO of the Clearwater Free Clinic, Meg Lokey ’17, the clinic’s director of development, explained that its mission is to serve the underserved by providing comprehensive medical care to uninsured families. They do this through grants, volunteerism and support from the community, Ms. Lokey said.
Sixty two percent of patients seen by the clinic are aged 45-65, Ms. Shapiro told the Class of ’18. According to the latest US Census, the 45-65 demographic is the fastest growing in Pinellas County, jumping by 30% from 1990-2000 and 25% between 2000 and 2010.
Providing for a growing county must have been one of the key priorities for the leadership at Morton Plant Hospital when they began planning for the new Doyle surgical tower recently christened and almost fully operational.
This Clearwater facility, the second stop on Health Day, stood out for its skilled design and futuristic utility.
Health Day Co-Chair and Surgical Services Business Manager at Morton Plant Bill Sedey ’14 explained the significance of the advancements in technology now housed in this space-aged hospital.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeff Jensen talked about the long buildup and the four years it took to make Morton Plant Hospital the standard of medical technology that it is today. With surgical suites and operating rooms three times the size of their original digs, Dr. Jensen said the hospital will be at the forefront of the industry for many years to come.
After donning medical scrubs that looked like they were from the set of Stranger Things, the class took a quick tour of the facility, the MRI space, and an operating room that may have been more suitably called an operating house. As we navigated the labyrinth-like tower and its hundreds of thousands of square feet, it felt like breadcrumbs might have been a good thing to bring along. We were lucky we made it out before the bus left for our third stop, Largo Medical Center.
At Largo Medical Center’s Indian Rocks facility the Class of ’18 was greeted by Health Day Co-Chair Tammy Robiconti ’16. A gracious gourmet lunch was laid out and waiting in the beautiful conference room. It was certainly the best hospital food any of us had ever eaten.
As we ate, Ashley Muchnick, VP of Behavioral Health Services at Largo Medical Center, spoke to us about mental health, the stigma around it, and ways we could assist in bringing attention to the matter.
It was easy to see that for Ms. Muchnick something about this job is deeply personal for her. To hear her talk about the people receiving treatment there was like listening to a teacher talk about their students: with passion, patience, and no judgment or condescension. This was someone with a mission and being around her was inspiring.
Inspiration was everywhere at the Indian Rocks location. As we toured the Behavioral Health Services wing, our first stop was the Music Therapy room. Inside stood Erin Seibert, MT-BC, a licensed music therapist. She was clutching a beautiful woodgrain acoustic guitar, strumming it slowly, eyes wide, and lighting up the room from behind her glasses.
Ms. Seibert invited us to grab one of the many instruments around the room and we quickly started an impromptu jam session that would have been pleasant had we not so plainly lacked rhythm and general musical talent.
You don’t have to be a musician to benefit from Music Therapy, Ms. Seibert said. The idea is that music of any kind, when used to address negative feeling or emotions, can help rewire the brain’s pathways, re-teaching it how to feel and communicate with itself. For many of the Class of ’18, this was a new and fascinating experience accentuated by Ms. Seibert’s stirring performance of a song called “Getting There,” a collage of lyrics written by patients confronting their own mental health challenges.
One verse stood out for its hauntingly beautiful and all too clear description of the struggles one battling mental illness must face: to experience pain and then to find the strength to come away from it.
I’m tired of holding on and need to let go. When a door in life closes, it’s time to open a window.
Tours of the other parts of the Behavioral Health Services wing revealed that constant vigilance is required to safely and humanely treat these patients. Every single detail was covered in explaining how they ensure that a room presents no danger to a patient whatsoever.
Before leaving Largo Medical Center, the Class of ’18 heard about a part of the healthcare industry that is easy to overlook: end-of-life care. For families with a loved one with little time left, hospice is a valuable option, said Leslie Weiland, RN, BS, the professional relations liaison with Empath Health (Suncoast Hospice.) Her organization’s services for families range from counseling and support to palliative care services for individuals preferring to stay in the home.
Staying in her home wasn’t an option for the aforementioned Pinecrest Place resident Rita Smith. Though it wasn’t because she couldn’t take care of herself in the house in St. Petersburg where she and her husband lived for more than 40 years. She was tired of the cooking and the cleaning and all the other chores, she said. That’s what brought her to Pinecrest Place. They do all of that for her. Not having to drive her husband to the VA every day is another plus, she said, since Pinecrest has an excellent transportation division.
“Excellent” is how many of the residents at Pinecrest Place described the staff’s handling of Hurricane Irma.
Pinecrest Place Executive Director Karen McFarlin said her facility’s population doubled during the storm, as family members of residents and staff came to stay. She said the way everyone worked together to keep things running smoothly was something she was particularly proud of.
No one could be more proud than Mrs. Smith while clutching the leash of Max, the community dog. She beamed as she pet him in between guiding tours of a Pinecrest Place model apartment. Quite the operator, Mrs. Smith spoke of Pinecrest Place as if she herself were on the payroll. She told many of us to send our parents there in a few years. It’s a great place, she said.
“We’re happy here,” said Mrs. Smith who has lived at Pinecrest Place with her husband for the last 14 months.
“This is our last stop before we go home to the Lord.”