Nurse Connect Provides Vital Service for Community
Most days, the calls come in nearly unending waves. Patients have concerns about symptoms that they find troubling – ranging from minor to more urgent conditions. On the other end of the phone line is a Broward Health registered nurse ready to make a swift and sound assessment and provide medical guidance. This is Broward Health’s free Nurse Connect service, which expanded in March to a 24/7 operation.

“When people call and are worried, I try to take that fear away. I take advantage of the time that I have on the phone with the patient to educate them,” said Shannon Heiss, RN, TCRN, lead nurse for Nurse Connect. Before the call is over, Heiss said, patients often share their appreciation. “They tell us all the time ‘you really made me feel better today.’”

The nurses work in 12-hour shifts answering hundreds of health questions each day. Many of them have experience caring for patients in the fast-paced and unpredictable world of Emergency Departments. The core group of nurses receives invaluable support from Aldo Calvo, D.O., medical director of ambulatory care for Broward Health, and Gavin Malcolm, MSW, LCSW, population health director. The team is also supported by about 15 population health nurses who primarily care for patients in ambulatory settings.

The nurses expertly “help manage patients’ anxiety, answer questions and triage,” said Malcolm. “It’s been awesome to see the population health nurses flourish in this expanded system.”

Through Nurse Connect, patients can obtain guidance on whether to seek immediate care. The registered nurses also share information on how to manage symptoms, help schedule appointments, connect patients with a primary care provider when needed, and educate about proper medication protocol.

When two months ago Broward Health expanded its services to accommodate the needs associated with the pandemic, the Nurse Connect team morphed into an important conduit for patients who do not have doctors and suspect they have coronavirus symptoms.

“I’m particularly proud – but far from surprised – about how our nurses have delivered incredibly passionate care in these very challenging times,” said Calvo.

The nurses also represent the community’s diversity, as some of the nurses are fluent in Spanish, French, Creole and Portuguese. The healthcare system also has access to translation services for other languages.

Beyond providing screenings and scheduling appointments, Nurse Connect directs patients to the best resources, Malcolm said. Additionally, the team makes hundreds of follow-up calls to patients, including sharing negative COVID-19 test results.

The service is not a one-way street. The Nurse Connect program has been beneficial to the nurses, too. “We have people come back and tell us that they have had really good outcomes because of the education we shared,” said Malcolm. “That is the beauty of Nurse Connect.”

It’s a tremendous help to the team when patients share their complete medical history, said Joe DiGiorgio, RN, who works overnight. Especially those patients who don’t have a primary care provider.
“Number one, we can educate the patient when we have all the facts,” DiGiorgio said, “and number two, we can facilitate care on a diagnostic level assuming they meet criteria.” Having more information allows Broward Health to more quickly determine if they are a candidate for a COVID-19 test, he said.

Broward Health offers mobile COVID-19 testing for the South Florida community. To be tested, patients can call Nurse Connect for an appointment and should have a written script from a physician. For those patients who don’t have a primary care provider, Nurse Connect steps in to fill the access-to-care gap.

Once registered, patients are asked to bring a photo ID and the written prescription for COVID-19 testing to a Broward Health’s mobile testing site.

As the demand for COVID-19 testing lessens, Broward Health’s Nurse Connect team will continue to provide a vital service for the community.

“I’m looking forward to doing health assessments for conditions such as high blood pressure, because that could cause a stroke,” said Heiss. It’s important to educate patients about when they should get medical attention and how to better manage their health, she said. “There are so many things we can focus on to help people get healthier and stay healthy.”

If you have a health-related concern, Broward Health’s Nurse Connect is just a call away. To speak to a registered nurse at Nurse Connect, call 954-320-5730. Please note that our nurses will not diagnose your condition, but they are available to provide valuable information on a range of health-related topics. In an emergency, always call 911.