Good Health Takes A Village

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To make meaningful impact during the pandemic, the Floating Hospital found creative healthcare problem-solving in community collaborations

No industry was unaffected by the unprecedented strain caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic, and for organizations serving the needs of underserved New Yorkers, the work at hand was far from business as usual.

For the Floating Hospital, continuing its mission to provide primary, dental and behavioral health services and education to families living in temporary housing meant finding new, creative ways to make an impact. To do so, the hospital turned to partnerships with other organizations dedicated to serving the city’s most vulnerable and in-need individuals.

One such organization was the Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation, an Astoria/LIC-based not-for-profit private foundation focused on supporting educational opportunities, work-force development, and economic mobility for low-income northwest Queens residents.

“It’s about the collective and not just the individual organizations,” says executive director Pooja Joshi O’Hanlon. “I was thinking, What are the issues surfacing for non-profits? How can we at Elmezzi help the community best?

“I thought about how to reduce the burden between funders and grantees and level out the power dynamic,” says O’Hanlon, who realized that both outreach and streamlining the review process for grant proposals would get their funds into the right hands much more quickly during the pandemic. All of which fit well into founders Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi’s original mission: helping the community they loved so much.

She wrote to the Floating Hospital President and General Counsel Sean Granahan, asking what was needed in the community. Granahan clued her into an initiative to get more nurse practitioners on the ground in the community during the Covid crisis. “[Sean’s] email that included a project description and supporting organization documents served as a proposal, we made sure we were complying [with the IRS regulations that apply to our organization], and made the grant. It was super fast and efficient. That was one way we shifted to be of service.” It was one of two grants Elmezzi funded so the Floating Hospital could get boots on the ground to provide care and improve vaccination rates for the city’s most vulnerable.

“The Floating Hospital has been a community anchor and partner, but our focus was not always on public health in this way. The pandemic made us expand and shift,” says O’Hanlon. “As services were being shut down and during the pandemic, a lot of vulnerable people were being impacted in ways outside [Elmezzi’s] typical area of funding. We had to be flexible quickly and proactive and thoughtful with resources we have.”

collage of images of tfh partners

Funding was only one aspect of community cooperation. For organizations like Safe Horizon, which helps victims of domestic abuse in New York City find safe shelter and get necessary support and access to life-saving information, reaching that population during a pandemic was especially challenging.

“We collaborated with [the Floating Hospital] on an educational seminar to increase awareness of domestic violence, which is a pandemic within the pandemic,” says Rebecca Hernandez, DOVE (Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies) director for the organization, who participated in a Zoom presentation with Floating Hospital director of behavioral health Dr. Igda Martinez, and K Bain, founder of 696 Build Queensbridge’s “violence disrupter” initiative. “Because of this, we reached a much wider audience..”

The population served by Safe Horizon is especially tricky, not only because the locations of safe houses are kept private to protect the victims and their families, but during the pandemic, when people were sequestered to their homes, domestic violence increased at an alarming rate. From March 16 to May 16, 2020, the National Domestic Violence Hotline recorded 62,413 contacts—calls, texts and online chats—a 9% increase and 10% of those contacts (6,210) specifically citing Covid-19 as the cause of abuse suffered. In New York State, state troopers reported a 33% increase in calls relating to such abuse in April 2020 compared to 2019.

Safe Horizon provided access to that vulnerable community, assisting with pickups, provided by the Floating Hospital’s Good Health Shuttle, for safe house residents in discreet locations so they could keep their healthcare appointments.

“We have many partnerships and collaborate a lot of people and organizations, from the Floating Hospital to council members and politicians to Albany itself,” says Hernandez. “Everyone is working together and that’s something at Safe Horizon that we value. To help the client is the goal for everyone – it’s what we can do.”

The partnerships continued after the height of the pandemic as needs evolved to vaccine administration. For that, the Floating Hospital turned to its 12-year-long relationship with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and turned facilities into pop-up vaccination clinics that reached hundreds of senior citizens, as well as Catholic Charities’ frontline workers in its 20 food pantries (a service that rose 1000% in demand over the pandemic).

“We did close to 300 shots. At the time, getting vaccinations was pretty much impossible and [the Floating Hospital] was really a lifesaver,” says Debbie Hamson, senior director of community outreach services for Catholic Charities. “When we collaborate, we bring in other services and it really enhances what we bring to the community. A lot of times people don’t like to ask for help, but when we’re out there in the community tabling and saying, ‘Hey, we’re here!’ people are more likely to stop and get help.”

— Amy Zavatto

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continues to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.


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