A federally qualified health center, the Long Island City clinic and its health centers serve homeless families living in shelters, hotels and those who are living doubled-up. They also serve as a primary care provider for residents living in public housing in western Queens, a medically underserved area.
When the COVID-19 global pandemic began, The Floating Hospital initially played an educational role, helping patients understand what the virus means and what they have to do to prevent its spread.
“A lot of the information was changing week by week, day by day, on what we knew about COVID-19,” said Dr. Shani Andre, chief medical officer at The Floating Hospital.
The clinic’s next step was to modify its services to meet the needs of its communities, Andre said. As New York implemented its PAUSE, patients could not no longer come out for services, so The Floating Hospital made the shift to telehealth.
Webcams were installed in every office, and patients were set up through an online portal.
“There was a big learning curve for our patients,” Andre said, “and making sure they have the information they need.”
The Long Island City site was also helping patients who were concerned about possibly contracting the coronavirus, advising them on risk factors and past medical history. The clinic continued to see patients on site for activities that needed to be done in person, like lab tests, throat swabs and vaccines for kids.
Other changes in the clinic’s practices included transporting staff before patients to minimize risk and delivering prescriptions from pharmacies directly to patients.
Earlier this month, The Floating Hospital became the only health care provider in Queens that can refer people for city-funded self-isolation in hotels.
Andre noted that many families in Queens have multi-generational households with kids living with parents and grandparents. With seniors and immunocompromised people at higher risk for COVID-19, the rooms are important for frontline workers and others to self-quarantine and prevent their family members from contracting the virus.
“It’s important because you want to stop the spread,” she said.
Last week, The Floating Hospital also became a community testing center for COVID-19. The clinic offers both the diagnostic test that tells patients if they currently have the virus, as well as the antibody test, which detects if they have been previously exposed to COVID-19.
As a charitable health care organization, the clinic also does not charge uninsured people for testing, which is covered by federal funds.
Andre said allowing for testing in the community brings peace of mind for residents who may have been exposed during the pandemic.
“I definitely feel we’ve done that for our patients,” she said, “ being a hub of information and offering testing to the Long Island City community.”
As hospitals and health care organizations prepare for a second wave of coronavirus patients, Andre said The Floating Hospital is looking at ways to provide services and keep patients safe before that wave hits.
The clinic is already thinking about how to restructure waiting rooms to provide social distancing and capacity limitations. They’re also examining practices to minimize contact between patients and staff.
“We want to make sure we don’t become a hub of contagion to spur that second wave,” she said.
Andre added that she hopes the city, state and federal government continues to work in a coordinated fashion, especially making sure sites have enough materials and protective equipment.
She noted that there have been many restrictions for telehealth, such as where the patient and provider have to be, and how it’s reimbursed.
“We’re really hoping that some of those restrictions that were eased for the pandemic will stay in place going forward,” Andre said.
Last Tuesday, State Senator Michael Gianaris made a trip to The Floating Hospital to deliver 1,000 face masks and hand sanitizer. The western Queens representative secured the supplies from city and state stockpiles.
“The Floating Hospital has been doing incredible work since the pandemic began, and I am pleased to support their efforts,” Gianaris said. “It is critical we make sure our communities have the supplies needed to get through this crisis.”
“Our need for these essential supplies is ongoing,” Andre added, “and we can guarantee that they will be put to good use.”