Addressing health care disparities in Pinellas County

By Carlos R. Rodriguez, MD, FAAFP, Director of Family Medicine and the founding director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at Evara Health

Pinellas County, Florida, with its dense population nearing one million residents, faces significant healthcare challenges. Many of its inhabitants lack access to affordable, primary healthcare services, especially those from underserved, uninsured and underinsured communities. However, amidst these challenges, a beacon of hope shines through the NSU KPCOM/Evara Health Family Medicine Residency Program, offering a transformative solution to address the healthcare disparities prevalent in the region.

Evara Health, a longstanding not-for-profit Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Pinellas County, has been a cornerstone of affordable healthcare for over four decades. With a commitment to serving the community’s diverse needs, Evara Health embraces the Patient-Centered Medical and Dental Home model ensuring comprehensive, coordinated care led by primary care providers. This model is crucial in providing continuity of care, especially for vulnerable populations.

The collaboration between Evara Health and Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU KPCOM) has birthed a residency program, deeply rooted in community service and medical education. The program’s mission extends beyond producing competent physicians; it aims to cultivate compassionate leaders equipped to tackle the complex healthcare issues faced by underserved communities.

Pinellas County’s demographics underscore the significance of this residency program. As the primary safety-net provider in the area, Evara Health serves a diverse population including individuals facing poverty, homelessness, chronic diseases, HIV/AIDS and behavioral health disorders. Through hands-on experience with Evara Health’s patient base, residents gain invaluable insights into addressing social determinants of health and healthcare disparities.

Physician shortages exacerbate the healthcare challenges in Florida, with an aging population and a lack of residency positions contributing to the issue. The NSU KPCOM/Evara Health Family Medicine Residency Program addresses this shortage by training culturally competent physicians who are adept at serving underserved populations. By immersing residents in an ambulatory community health environment, the program enhances their comfort level in working with vulnerable communities, thereby increasing the likelihood of them serving in similar settings in the future.

The program’s success is evident in its meticulous planning and accreditation process. Under the leadership of the Program Director, Dr. Carlos R. Rodriguez and Evara Health’s proactive approach, coupled with support from NSU KPCOM, the program was accredited by the ACGME and successfully recruited a diverse cohort of residents that started July 2023. The curriculum emphasizes comprehensive care, interprofessional collaboration and proficiency in the Patient-Centered Medical Home model, ensuring residents are well-equipped to meet the evolving healthcare needs of their communities.

Central to the program’s success is its focus on holistic patient care. By addressing not only medical needs but also social determinants of health, residents learn to provide comprehensive, compassionate care that uplifts their patients. This approach aligns with Evara Health’s commitment to promoting community wellness and diversity, fostering a new generation of healthcare leaders dedicated to serving the underserved.

The NSU KPCOM/Evara Health Family Medicine Residency Program stands as a beacon of hope in addressing healthcare disparities in Pinellas County. Through its comprehensive curriculum, hands-on experience and commitment to community service, the program not only produces competent physicians but also cultivates compassionate leaders poised to make a meaningful difference in the lives of underserved individuals and families.

Dr. Carlos R. Rodriguez is the Director of Family Medicine and the founding director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at Evara Health. He completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his medical degree at The Chicago Medical School. After serving in the United States Navy, he completed his Family Medicine Residency at Mercer University and a Sports Medicine Fellowship at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. He has been practicing Family and Sports Medicine in Pinellas County for over 20 years.

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