Dr. Andre steers a ship of compassion

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A few months after The Floating Hospital moved into its new Long Island City building in 2021, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shani Andre was walking through the waiting room and heard a mother speaking on her cell phone as she watched her son play on one of the pieces of children’s furniture. Dr. Andre overheard the woman tell the person on the other end of the line how amazing the facility is.

“She was saying how he’s running around here, having a ball and thinks that this place was created just for him. He doesn’t want to leave,” she said. “And it spoke to what we wanted our patients to feel: welcome, seen and at peace.”

Since its founding in 1866, The Floating Hospital has been a resource for New York City’s underserved and homeless populations. But when the pandemic brought the city to a grinding halt in 2020, the organization’s critical role in caring for impoverished New Yorkers came into stark relief.

“Everything that happened during the pandemic reconfirmed all the things we knew were problem areas. There’s a big disconnect between what we know to be clear needs and access that these populations have to services,” Dr. Andre said.

“We try to use our position and resources to help, educate and provide that link to services as much as we could. I think in general, we’re trying to gather more data and poll patients. That way we’re not assuming anything—we’re hearing directly from individuals what they need.”

graphic with photo of mom and kid and pull quote
graphic with photo of mom and kid and pull quote

Because the clinic is not designed for urgent care, Dr. Andre and her staff didn’t see the massive swell in patients that most city hospitals experienced. Covid brought in more patients than usual, which amplified the magnitude and severity of issues such as medication compliance and access to healthy food, which can lead to problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to trouble with attention and learning.

The pandemic forced the clinic to transition to total telehealth for some departments, such as behavioral health, and a hybrid of in-person and virtual visits for medical. The transition proved to be a big challenge since patients lacked WiFi or internet access in shelters, had limited data plans or had to coordinate with other household members to use devices. But one area where the hospital truly showed its value in the community was vaccine distribution.

graphic with montage of images of families and providers in the clinic stylized as a painting

Left to right: Toddler playing in our nursery room; young patients enjoying lunch in our classroom kitchen; patient receiving a vaccine at The Floating Hospital Covid Vaccine & Testing Center at Astoria Houses.

graphic with montage of images of families and providers in the clinic stylized as a painting

Clockwise: Toddler playing in our nursery room; patient receiving a vaccine at The Floating Hospital Covid Vaccine & Testing Center at Astoria Houses; young patients enjoying lunch in our classroom kitchen.

“When the vaccine rolled out, it was an especially unique situation for us to be in,” Dr. Andre said. “We had access to a supply of vaccines because we are a Federally Qualified Health Center. We reached out to a population that may not have engaged with us before, like Asian-language-speaking community centers. They like to get services in their own communities and we could do that because we have staff on site who speak their languages. There were also different priority-communities, like teachers. It was nice to be able to access opportunities within our community that were new for us.”

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the staff tapped deep reserves of innovation, compassion and determination to help New York’s underserved communities navigate in a time when testing and, later, vaccination became routine. Coming full circle is The Floating Hospital’s recently opened Covid care clinic, offering free testing and vaccines on site at Astoria Houses, a New York City Housing Authority housing complex. Complementing the project, The Floating Hospital received a grant from Surgo Ventures to become a vaccine ambassador, a patient-centered program that launches this month.

— Liza Weisstuch

The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.

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