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How a small Pasco County hospital is rebounding from COVID-19

The Zephyrhills medical center is a “second home” for staff, one nurse manager says.
 
Caitlyn Mingo, left, the new assistant nurse manager for night shifts in the progressive care unit at AdventHealth Zephyrhills, and Amber Strickland, a nurse in the unit, at the hospital on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills.
Caitlyn Mingo, left, the new assistant nurse manager for night shifts in the progressive care unit at AdventHealth Zephyrhills, and Amber Strickland, a nurse in the unit, at the hospital on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills. [ SAM OGOZALEK | Times ]
Published March 22

ZEPHYRHILLS — The beige hospital in this Pasco County city has only 149 beds. The facility, sitting near the Zephyrhills water tower, is about 40 years old.

But employees say AdventHealth Zephyrhills’ size, tiny compared to most other Tampa Bay medical centers, is part of what makes its workplace culture so welcoming and supportive.

Nurses in its 16-bed progressive care unit grow close. Administrators hand out candy to staff during weekend shifts. When seniors are hospitalized and have no family in the area, workers sometimes take care of their pets.

“This is our second home,” said Caitlyn Mingo, who commutes from Plant City and is the unit’s new assistant nurse manager for night shifts. “I don’t feel like I’m a number here at all. I feel very supported.”

It hasn’t always been easy to maintain familiarity among employees. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the delta variant raged across Florida and caused a wave of hospitalizations, monthly turnover hit 30% for staff such as nurses and radiology technicians, said Ryan Reed, the chief medical officer.

The rate rebounded to about 17% late last year, he said. Reed credited programs in which employees start working at the hospital in entry-level positions, like nurse technicians, while continuing their college education to acquire more skills.

AdventHealth Zephyrhills on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills.
AdventHealth Zephyrhills on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills. [ SAM OGOZALEK | Times ]

The medical center, which recorded more than 11,000 admissions last year, is doubling down on its efforts to retain nurses in Zephyrhills.

Saint Leo University, which began offering a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2021, announced in February that it was partnering with the hospital to allow its first class of nursing students to gain experience at the facility.

Nurses mentor the students, working 12-hour shifts side by side. They monitor patients, conduct health assessments and provide medications.

The hospital makes sure its nurses can easily raise concerns to executives. Each unit has a nurses council, which can discuss issues and then inform managers.

The progressive care unit, for example, was recently renovated and didn’t have hooks on the wall for preparing IV tubing, so nurses requested them, said Kristina Wood, director of special projects, who has been at the medical center for over five years.

Soon after starting at the hospital, Mingo found out she was pregnant. Staff threw her a “huge” baby shower, she said, despite barely knowing her. Her son is about to turn 1, and Mingo hasn’t yet had to buy diapers due to her colleagues’ generosity.

“At a time where I needed family, they were family,” said Mingo, who has worked at the medical center for almost two years.

Mingo added that she got 12 weeks off to care for her newborn — even though she didn’t qualify for that amount under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“It was like, ‘Take your time. We’re here. You’re supported. Don’t stress out. Your job’s waiting for you,’” she said.

Ryan Reed, chief medical officer at AdventHealth Zephyrhills and AdventHealth Dade City, on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills.
Ryan Reed, chief medical officer at AdventHealth Zephyrhills and AdventHealth Dade City, on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills. [ SAM OGOZALEK | Times ]

AdventHealth Dade City, a 120-bed hospital just up the road in Pasco County, has a similar workplace culture, said Yahya Hamed, who joined the medical center six months ago and is manager of its intensive care unit, or ICU, and telemetry.

Earlier this year, an ICU charge nurse driving home to Homosassa hit a pothole and damaged her tire and rim, Hamed said. A colleague went out and helped her.

“They get so close because it’s a smaller hospital,” Hamed said.

• • •

AdventHealth Zephyrhills and AdventHealth Dade City

Location: Zephyrhills and Dade City

Employees: 1,760

Website: adventhealth.com/hospital/adventhealth-zephyrhills

Employee comments: “It is a peaceful and positive culture. The leadership is extremely supportive and when we have issues they are resolved immediately.”

“I get to be part of an engaged team that loves what we do. Seeing patients heal and hearing their appreciation is very rewarding. I am a leader that helps to support an amazing team. The physicians are excellent and care about the patients.”

“I have the opportunity to learn and grow and feel like part of a family.”

AdventHealth Zephyrhills, a 149-bed hospital, on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills.
AdventHealth Zephyrhills, a 149-bed hospital, on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Zephyrhills. [ SAM OGOZALEK | Times ]