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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

'Operating In Silos': Department Of Children And Families Outlines Goals For 2020

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Credit Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) held a summit Tuesday to discuss its high turn-over rates, heavy workloads, and low recruitment. 

DCF Secretary Chad Poppell says the agency needs a big change, starting with how it treats its workers.

“You are transportation specialists,” Poppell said, addressing DCF workers at the 2019 Child Protection Summit. “You are drug rehab counselors. You do human data sharing. You babysit. You schedule. And in some cases you become security guards. Right? That’s not what you signed up for, is it?”

The department recently told a state house committee nearly half of its child protective investigators quit last year. Poppell says the agency needs to pay more attention to investigators, noting a disconnect between the state office and workers in the field.

He points to a disconnect between agency departments as well.

“We have a part of DCF that focuses on substance abuse and mental health. They are really smart. Really smart. Is all of that knowledge and what we know about a mom addicted to opioids making its way into our safety plan and conditions for return? Right now, we're operating in silos.”

He says when departments don’t talk to each other, bad decisions happen, but didn’t elaborate further. Other than relying on additional funds in the governor's budget proposal, Poppell didn't say how exactly he would fix DCF's problems, but he wants to reduce the number of Florida families in crisis by 20% and reduce family re-entry into DCF programs. He hopes to do both by 2021. 

Editor's Note:A previous version of this story misquoted DCF Secretary Chad Poppell

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