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Snowbirds Flock to Florida

Vol. 1 •Issue 12 • Page 15
Snowbirds Flock to Florida

Hernando County hospitals anticipate an increase in patients during the winter

When the first snow falls and the really cold weather hits up north, Florida hospitals are prepared for the snowbirds.

Also referred to as seasonal residents, snowbirds typically live in the northern part of the country or Canada during the summer months and in Florida during the winter. A large percentage of this group, mostly comprised of retirees, opts for the west central part of Florida from Citrus to Pinellas counties.

Hernando County, which is currently undergoing year-round growth, is among the counties impacted by the influx of snowbirds from the Northeast, and facilities are taking the necessary steps to accommodate this population's medical needs.

"We know where we live is seasonal, so we expect the increase in numbers," said Lori Dennison, RN, EMT-paramedic, nurse manager of the ED at Brooksville Regional Hospital, Brooksville. "Most places in this area are very used to seasonal people coming back. You know they're coming, but everything has been well- adjusted from years ago to deal with the influx community-wide."

"With the influx of population and the higher census year-round, we almost need our seasonal staffing all year and add additional [staffing] in the winter," explained Leanne Salazar, MBA, BSN, RN, nurse manager of med/surg and pediatrics at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, Spring Hill.

"I've worked here for 4 years now and there hasn't been a slack-off," agreed Jennifer Cooper, LPN, a staff nurse on the med/surg and pediatrics unit at Spring Hill Regional. "Usually in the winter we have to open more departments, but even in the summer we've had to open more units," Cooper said.

Milder Climate

Many snowbirds travel to the warmer climate to avoid the snow, cold or sleet. "For a patient with arthritis, when it gets cold, they may become stiff or achy and warm weather may help," said Dennison. "If they need medical care, they're not driving in nasty weather."

It may also be easier to recuperate in milder weather after surgery, said Salazar. "A lot of patients plan their orthopedic surgery for when they are in Florida. They would rather recuperate in a warmer, milder climate, and it's easier [to recover from] a hip and knee replacement when there's no snow or ice," she said.

With its beaches, theme parks and attractions, Florida also has a lot to offer, pointed out Demetra Flood, RN, ED nurse at Brooksville Regional.

Positives and Negatives

Permanent residents of Hernando County enjoy the increase in revenue for the state, and nurses appreciate the job security ensured by snowbirds, who generally are loyal, visiting the same hospital year after year.

"[The seasonal residents] still like the continuity of care even though they have a standard of care in the North and come to Brooksville in the wintertime," said Dennison.

Additional patients, however, mean additional challenges. Many snowbirds have lengthy medical histories. "Some snowbirds have quite extensive medical histories, so sometimes taking care of them can be a challenge because we are working with physicians out of state," said Dennison, explaining that Brooksville may not have a seasonal resident's most recent medical history because the patient has a set of doctors in Florida and another in the state where they live during the spring and summer.

"It sometimes causes more legwork — we have to get copies of X-rays and tests so that we don't duplicate efforts," said Salazar.

Regulations also vary from state to state, which may lead to communication breakdowns between patients and medical staff. "Because we are a rural area in Hernando County, we don't have everything that [the snowbirds] have access to [up north]," said Dennison.

Recruiting and Retaining

To meet the need for more health care workers during the winter, hospitals offer staff seasonal incentives such as bonuses for working extra shifts. Some staff comes in from other hospitals and is paid at a higher rate to guarantee the facility a nurse for at least 36 hours a week, said Salazar.

"Not to say that we will never bring in travelers, because we do, but we try to give our incentives to our own staff [first]," said Dennison.

Incentives such as bonuses offer people who are under contract at different facilities or those who have been on leave of absence a reason to come back, said Flood. A lot of people want — and need — to work more hours, added Cooper.

To recruit and retain nurses, Spring Hill Regional Hospital offers low nurse-to-patient ratios and educational support. The facility also recently built an observation unit and is in the process of building an obstetrics unit and ED with another observation unit and extra beds.

"Most nurses don't enter the field for money, although the money is great right now because of the demand for nurses. They need to go home feeling satisfied, or it's not worth the money," said Salazar.

Emily Todarello is editorial assistant at ADVANCE.


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