Clinic? Social Club? It's Both

Dec 5, 2013

If you weren't looking for it, you might miss it, sitting between a nail salon and a discount grocery store in a shopping plaza that seems to have an endless parking lot. Tucked in the plaza is a multi-million dollar medical clinic. 

"The model is all inclusive, where you can come and get everything taken care of in one place," said Mark Kent, CEO of CAC-Florida Medical Centers, a subsidiary of health insurance giant Humana.

The model isn't new. What we now call "managed care" has roots in mutual aid societies in Tampa that began in the early 1900s. The CAC model came to Miami-Dade from Cuba in 1964 with the name Clínica Asociación Cubana. 

The Cuban model was very different from what most American clinics practice. At the Cuban clinics, it was about creating social connections to go with the medical care.

It was setup by Cuban refugees who brought it with them after they fled in the wake of Fidel Castro's revolution.

Now, there are seventeen CAC locations across Florida. In September, two opened in Tampa. 

"There's been such a resounding response to our presence here," Kent said. "And it's what I call like, 'healthcare deserts,' so we do great in the communities that are low-income, under-served communities and we're bringing great and fantastic total healthcare to those communities."

Kent explained they rely heavily on the latest technology, things such as electronic medical records and a machine called the Quick Meds Dispense.

A physician writes the prescription in the exam room, and sends the information to the machine, which "kicks in and automatically, right out here, just like a Coca-Cola vending machine, out comes their prescription, labeled, in the bottle, and all the tech has to do is come in, look at it, stick it in a bag and take it to the exam room."

The machines are stocked mostly with generics, drugs that come with no co-pay for most of the center's patients.

There's no extra stop at the drug store, since patients leave with the medicine they need. According to Kent, that helps with medication adherence and reduces trips to the emergency room.

The other part of the CAC model is the Wellness Center that's next door.

"The psycho-social piece, which is very, very powerful, because as you get older and the kids are older and they moved away, maybe they're not around as often, this creates this sense of community, and they make new best friends, which is really awesome," Kent said.

Betty Battles goes to the Wellness Center every day. She lives close to the Seminole Heights location, at the J.L. Young Apartments, a public housing complex where 500  elderly or disabled people live.

"A lot of people do give up. They don' t wanna go anywhere, they don't attend parties, they're just depressed," Battles said. "And I went through that stage for a short time. But I'm not gonna let it get me. I'm not now. I'm very motivated."

Battles said the CAC has been life-changing for her, pulling her back from loneliness and isolation.

"This gives you something to do that you look forward to everyday, and I think the depression has lifted for a lot of people," Battles said.

Like Battles, Charles Strickland lives at the J.L. Young Apartments.

"When this came in here, it was wonderful, because I was unhappy with the primary doctor that I did have," Strickland said. "This primary doctor is marvelous, and right next door, the doctor is available."

The social aspects are important to him, too. On a recent morning, Strickland and about 30 other people were in the Wellness Center, many of them wearing party hats. 

Paper chains made from brightly colored construction paper draped across the main room. The patients at the center made those decorations, just one of the activities coordinated by Brenda Rebollar. That morning they were having their monthly birthday celebration, with games, cake and singing in English and Spanish, she said.

"So any of the patients that have a birthday that month, then we go ahead and celebrate that birthday," Rebollar said. "It's very special for them."

Gail Bryant of Temple Terrace said she comes as much for the social activities as she does for the health care.

"When I have an appointment, when I finish my appointment then I come over here, and spend some time, and then sometimes I just make arrangements when I don't and just come here and spend the day," Bryant said.

CAC-Florida Medical Centers accept insurance plans from Humana, Care Plus Health Plans, original Medicare and Medicaid, according to Kent. They also accept self-pay patients.

Kent said the Seminole Heights location has exceeded enrollment expectations, with 300 patients in the first two months. That's what they expected to get in a year. 

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Lottie Watts at 813-974-8705 (desk) or e-mail at lottiewatts@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.