The termination letters came as a shock.
The staff of Family Medical Group Starke were told they had 60 days to find new jobs when the hospital they were affiliated with was bought by new owners in February, who decided to sell the hospital’s associated assets. Family Medical Group Starke was a primary care practice that was previously linked to Shands Starke Regional Medical Center.
The decision was unexpected, and it would have left about 10,000 patients without proper medical care, said Dr. Joelle Innocent-Simon, the medical director at Family Medical Group.
Instead of looking for new jobs, the team looked for new buyers. The staff approached UF Health because they had worked with them in the past, Innocent-Simon said. UF Health and the Starke practice accepted the same insurance, and the Starke employees already had UF Health approved credentials.
UF Health didn’t want the practice to shut down either, said Dr. Bruce Mast, UF Health’s chief of plastic surgery. It receives nearly 24,000 patient visits a year.
“That was attractive to us because we do not have a primary care presence in Bradford County, north of Gainesville,” Mast said. “If the practice were to close down, it would leave a big gaping hole for health care access in a county that we felt would be less than ideal."
To the relief of the employees, UF Health accepted. The newly acquired UF Health Family Medical Group opened on May 1.
The longtime staff will provide experience and familiarity as the practice integrates into the UF Health system, Mast said.
An integrated healthcare network is a system where, if a patient has a procedure in Gainesville, their primary care doctors in Starke will have it on record. Mast said having this network gives staff the ability to keep up with patient records at any UF Health location.
“People in Starke now have access to the primary care practice,” Mast said. “When they see their family doc or they see their pediatrician, and there's a problem or a condition that requires a specialist, they're already tapped into our network.”
Upon opening, Innocent-Simon said patients were treated over the phone until all the necessary upgrades were made. They did not officially resume in-person care until May 11. Patients and doctors told Innocent-Simon they appreciate UF Health providing stability in healthcare in the community.
“For them to come into this community and do what they did, I know it's no small financial feat,” Innocent-Simon said. “They saw our community for what it was — a place that could not do without proper care.”