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Community Health Centers The Leesburg campus of Community Health Centers

By Richard Burnett

When Dr. Debra Andree thinks of Beacon College, she often flashes back to her early days in medicine. Fresh out of med school in the early 90s, she became a pediatrician for Community Health Centers’ Leesburg location in the middle of Beacon’s downtown campus.

There, she got to know the heart and soul of the city and the college — from students and faculty to the general staff.

“I really enjoyed the community, the people, and the beautiful downtown area,” said Andree, now chief executive officer of Community Health Centers, which in May became Beacon’s official health care provider. “Although I went on to work at other CHC locations, I think that early background [in Leesburg] really helped me understand the developmental needs of patients, especially the college population.”

For Winter Garden-based CHC, the new partnership with Beacon represents a milestone: It is the healthcare provider’s first alliance in higher education and opens the door to more expansion in that sector. Since its inception in 1972, CHC has grown rapidly as a private, not-for-profit organization, with 500 employees serving more than 70,000 patients annually at 15 locations across Central Florida.

Along the way, CHC has landed a number of honors. Last fall, it won a spot on the National Association for Business Resources’ Best and Brightest Company to Work For list for the third consecutive year. It has also been recognized as a Top 100 Company for Working Families by the Orlando Sentinel; received accreditation by the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care; and was selected as a Federal Qualified Health Center to receive grant money for serving uninsured patients.

As a not-for-profit group of clinics, CHC’s mission is to provide quality, compassionate, affordable healthcare services to diverse communities, including insured, uninsured, underinsured and underserved children and adults. From primary care and family medicine to dental and optometry, its services run the gamut. Most recently, it added behavioral health and telemedicine to its portfolio of services.

“We have a rich history of taking care of diverse populations and people with different needs,” Andree said. “We meet and serve people where they are and adapt to their individualized needs, respectful and mindful of where everyone is in their stage of development. If they learn differently, we adjust. If they have language challenges or are hearing or sight impaired, we accommodate their needs.”

For Beacon, CHC’s proximity to the campus held an immediate appeal as the college considered establishing a new health-services model, according to Sheryl Nichols, associate vice president of Student Engagement and Success. As Beacon looked further into CHC’s broad array of services, the appeal went far beyond convenience.

“We evaluated the needs of our students and families and recognized that in CHC, we could essentially have a one-stop shop to meet the medical needs of our students,” Nichols said. “Across the board, CHC’s sites provide holistic services, but the Leesburg location is the only one that offers all those services in one place.”

CHC created the “one-stop shop” location a year ago when it renovated its existing building and acquired the building next door to house its vision and dental services, according to John Riordan, CHC director of marketing and community relations. Those improvements put everything in easy walking distance for students and faculty, he said.

That especially caught the eye of Beacon officials as they contemplated upgrading the campus health services, President George J. Hagerty said in a June letter to students and their families. He noted past models had become inadequate in certain areas to meet the growing needs on campus.

“Last October, the College was introduced to the comprehensive non-emergency medical, dental, behavioral, and vision services available through the newly-renovated Community Health Center located on Magnolia Street,” he wrote. “Impressed with CHC’s holistic approach, we moved to provide our students with a patient-centered medical/dental home — that would become the first place students think of for all of their health care needs.”

Going forward, new Beacon students will register for the CHC program during Orientation Welcome Week in August. In July, returning students will receive a link to register online prior to arrival on campus for the fall semester. Dedicated staff such as the CHC nurse (CARE Navigator) assigned to Beacon College students, CHC intake specialists assigned to Beacon students, and the life skills case manager will assist with scheduling appointments and the coordination/management of services at the CHC Leesburg location.

Patient intake specialists assigned to Beacon students will conduct follow-ups to ensure all students are registered.