How New York-based NYU Langone and the Hospital for Special Surgery are managing their Palm Beach County offices. They expanded to the county seeking patients before the pandemic.
New York-based medical providers who expanded to Florida in recent years provide a unique perspective on the pandemic.
These health care providers sought a toehold in Palm Beach County to serve snowbirds who come here in the winter. Now they find themselves serving patients suddenly keen to stay in Florida, at least for the next few months.
The coronavirus pandemic is the reason. Medical providers say some of their patients want to stay away from dense urban areas, such as the Northeast.
At NYU Langone Health, the New York-based provider has noticed its two Palm Beach County clinics are busy with patients who have opted to remain in the Sunshine State year-round. NYU’s offices are at 101 N. Clematis Street in West Palm Beach and 16244 S. Military Trail in Delray Beach.
The offices were opened not only to serve the local population but also to provide year-round care to patients who travel from New York to Florida for the winter, and then return to New York right before summer.
“Every April or May, we historically see a drop off in volume, which we plan for. We know the summer months are a little bit slower,” said Andrew Rubin, senior vice president for clinical affairs and ambulatory care at NYU Langone Health in New York.
“But something interesting is happening with the pandemic,” Rubin said.
The seasonal drop in business is not happening this year at all. In fact, the offices are just as busy as they were during the winter months.
It seems many NYU Langone patients aren’t leaving Florida.
“They don’t want to get on an airplane just yet,” Rubin said. “They want to stay put.”
The trend could become permanent. “Nobody really knows what will happen six months from now, but people who stayed this year are going to think about staying all the time,” Rubin said.
NYU Langone already had been planning to add additional doctors, including an endocrinologist and gastroenterologist, to its roster. Rubin said the greater demand for its services “builds the case for doing this.”
Added demand is coming from younger patients, under the age of 65, who suddenly realize they probably should have a primary care doctor “in case they need care in the future,” Rubin said.
Another New York-based provider that expanded to Palm Beach County also is making its way through the pandemic.
The Hospital for Special Surgery, the nation’ top orthopedic hospital, in February opened its first Florida clinic in downtown West Palm Beach. The center, at 300 Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, offers physician consultations, out-patient surgeries and rehabilitation services.
The HSS clinic, years in the making, was slated to serve New York-area residents living part of the time in Palm Beach County, as well as capture business from orthopedic patients throughout the Southeast, including those involved in professional sports and dance entities.
By the time HSS opened in February, more than 1,000 appointments were booked for HSS’s doctors.
But six weeks after opening, the pandemic hit, and services such as elective surgeries were banned.
“The timing was not ideal, starting something as important as this in a new market,” said HSS President Louis Shapiro. “We were excited about opening at the beginning of the South Florida season.”
“On the other hand,” Shapiro added, “it’s not ideal to be at the epicenter of the pandemic in Manhattan, either.”
After weeks of government restrictions to limit the virus’ spread, limits on elective surgery in Florida recently were eased.
HSS officials are eager to tell patients that elective surgeries are resumed. “We are inviting patients to come back to us on their terms,” Shapiro said. “In Florida, that means virtually or by coming to our location.”
HSS already had planned “virtual health” technology for patients, but the program moved even faster with the pandemic. Even rehab is being conducted online, he said.
To reassure the public, HSS touts its expertise in dealing with the coronavirus. Even before the pandemic, HSS was renowned for its infection control.
But HSS, like NYU Langone, had to develop an even greater infection control protocol in New York that now also is used in Florida.
In addition to screening patients for symptoms prior to appointments, both providers require masks be worn by patients and health care officials. Prior to surgeries, HSS also has patients tested for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Like NYU Langone, HSS also expects to welcome more patients who may move to Florida from the Northeast, although Shapiro emphasized that HSS saw growth from existing and potential patients in Florida years prior to the pandemic.
In 2019, some 3,000 Florida residents traveled for care to HSS in New York. “We want to deliver care closer to where people live and work,” Shapiro said, “and not just in Westchester County, New York. It means Florida.”
NYU Langone’s Rubin said New York hospitals, and the New York population as a whole, are so skilled at navigating life during a pandemic that the number of coronavirus cases in the city, once catastrophic, has declined.
This is happening against a backdrop of worsening numbers for Florida, including Palm Beach County, where the number of infections is rising.
NYU Langone is watching the state’s numbers closely. Wearing a mask is key to keeping the infection rates down, Rubin said.
“One thing that we’re doing that is better than what is happening in general in Florida is the wearing of a mask,” Rubin said. “Everybody does it up here, and it really, really works.”