A Time for Gator Greatness

A Gift of Connectivity

Mobile medical carts permit clinicians to confer with colleagues at a distance and connect isolated COVID-19 patients with family and friends. “An important part of healing is support from loved ones,” says Dr. Nipa Shah, above, chair of the Department of Community Health and Family Medicine at UF Health Jacksonville. “Now, through this generous grant, we can offer technology to meet this need.”

Thanks to a timely gift, UF Health Jacksonville is using medical iPad carts to deliver safer care, conserve protective gear and connect isolated patients with loved ones.

iPads aren’t normally considered essential healthcare tools. But in the battle against COVID-19, that is what they have become – and now UF Health Jacksonville is able to deploy more of them in the field, thanks to a $100,000 donation from Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund (FCRF).

The generous gift will enable UF Health Jacksonville to purchase 15 much-needed medical carts containing iPads or other tablets outfitted with the latest medical software and apps, video cameras and social platforms like Facetime and Zoom.

The high-tech mobile carts will permit clinicians at the Downtown campus to deliver inpatient care more efficiently and safely. Rather than a group of doctors and residents going from bed to bed during rounds, a single clinician in personal protective equipment can escort the cart to patients’ bedsides, reducing the risk of infection to staff. Doctors can participate in the virtual rounds from their offices and other sites, and can confer with other clinicians more easily.

When positioned at bedsides, the carts will enable nurses to communicate virtually with patients, eliminating the need to don gloves, masks and other precious protective gear for each interaction, and lessening potential for exposure to the virus.

Just as critically, tablet stations will offer patients with COVID-19 an intimate, personal way to communicate with family and friends who are not allowed inside intensive care units.

“An important part of healing is support from loved ones,” said Dr. Nipa Shah, chair of the Department of Community Health and Family Medicine at UF Health Jacksonville. “Now, through this generous grant, we can offer technology to meet this need.”

The First Coast Relief Fund is a joint effort by philanthropic organizations and individuals to help Northeast Florida in times of crisis. Founded in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew, the fund was reactivated in 2020 to support local organizations delivering essential human services to those disproportionally affected by COVID-19. Among the organizations raising money for the fund are the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Northeast Florida and the United Ways of Northeast Florida and St. Johns County, which also manage the fund.

By March 26, just 10 days after it was reactivated, the First Coast Relief Fund had already raised $2 million, including gifts from Michael Ward, former CSX CEO, and his wife, Jennifer Glock; Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars; the Jessie Ball duPont Fund; and the Jim Moran Foundation.

With its emphasis on helping the underserved, UF Health Jacksonville was recognized by United Way as needing additional technological support to respond to the pandemic. The highly infectious virus has put unprecedented strain on the hospital’s abilities to care for patients while protecting clinicians and nurses from getting sick, problems the tablet carts will alleviate.

The technology will also be invaluable as UF Health Jacksonville, like hundreds of hospitals around the country, pivots to greater reliance on telemedicine in the coming months and years.

“Think about the patient in the hospital at 2 a.m. needing evaluation by a specialist,” said Shah. “With the tablet carts, there is no need to wait for the doctor to come in person to fully assess.”

“Quick access to care can save lives,” she added.

The surge in COVID-19 patients began in Northeast Florida in March and is expected to continue at least through May, according to models. UF Health Jacksonville is treating COVID-19 patients in its two main hospitals and screening people as they enter lobbies. Staff are also testing residents in areas near the Eighth Street hospital where there are many seniors, to understand the virus’s reach into vulnerable communities.

Grateful for these efforts, Jacksonville locals and businesses have pitched in with donations of PPE and food for hospital staff. Hungry health care workers enjoyed pizza from a Springfield neighborhood favorite, chicken and shrimp dinners created by celebrity chef Kenny Gilbert, and hand-crafted mini donuts. One florist donated flowers from a cancelled wedding to adorn the hospital’s iconic mascot, a statue of the Jacksonville Jaguar wearing a nurse’s hat.

“Thank you all for showing your love towards all of us!” wrote one fan on the hospital’s Facebook page in early April. “God bless all those sacrificing so much for our communities.”

Such outpourings of gratitude are par for the course for UF Health Jacksonville, a teaching hospital and medical system that has served its community for 150 years. The institution traces its roots to 1870 when the Duval County Hospital and Asylum was built to care for Jacksonville’s indigent sick, making it the nation’s oldest publicly supported hospital. Thirty-plus years later, the Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training (later Methodist Hospital) opened to care for victims of the Great Fire of 1901. Over the following decades, the hospital expanded and went through several name changes, becoming an affiliate of the University of Florida in 1985 and merging with Shands Hospital in 1999.

Today, UF Health Jacksonville encompasses two hospital sites, a Level 1 trauma center, more than 60 primary and specialty clinics; a teaching campus with colleges of medicine, nursing and pharmacy; and more than 7,600 faculty and staff.

UF Health Jacksonville never imagined it would be celebrating its 150th anniversary during an active  pandemic. But given how ably the hospital has responded to past health crises – wars, fires and Spanish flu outbreaks – it is ready to meet this challenge, especially with the support of the First Coast Relief Fund.

“Our mission is to heal and comfort,” said Shah. “This gift will result in improved, efficient, timely communication that will forever change the way patients will be and should be cared for while in the hospital.”