By Charisse Lopez-Mason
Special to UM News
Lisandra Afanador walked into the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute more than 11 years ago gripping her small son’s hand as tightly as she would at the edge of a cliff. Her head was spinning, and her heart was heavy with emotion. She was sad, hopeful, anxious, and afraid.
“My son suffered from everything,” she said. Then 9, Adriel Afanador was visiting Bascom Palmer to treat glaucoma and cataracts, among other diseases. He was small for his age, and hyperactive. “I was so afraid of how he would handle this,” Afanador recalled.
Soon after her first visit, Afanador met Vanessa Bello, manager of patient access at Bascom Palmer. “I knew she was special; she is someone you don’t forget.”
Twice a week for many years, Bello became Afanador’s confidant—putting her mind at ease during visits to Bascom Palmer with her son, helping them navigate through a very difficult situation, every step along the way. More than 1,100 visits, hand-holdings, and hide-and-seek games later for her son, Afanador speaks fondly about her experience at Bascom. “Vanessa was so warm and nice to my son throughout the years,” she said.
The Afanadors are one of countless families who have stories about their experiences at UHealth—the University of Miami Health System, and many involve one of the more than 500 on-site patient access representatives who serve thousands of patients each day.
Day in and day out, these representatives serve patients on the front lines, before they receive specialized care, and create a first impression that leaves a long-lasting impact.
On-site patient access representatives are hard to miss. Along with their bright smiles, they wear bright orange scarves or neckties dotted with the U.
“I can’t believe how popular the scarves have become,” says Enery Samlut, executive director of health system access. “We knew we wanted something that represented that we are all part of the U team.”
John Perez, senior patient access representative at Bascom Palmer for the past 18 years, knows the stories of each of his patients, who know him by name, or by his voice. “One of my patients was badly scarred in a fire,” he says of the woman he’s been greeting and helping several days a week for the past six years. “She knows I’m here by the sound of my voice,” Perez says.
But visiting a physician is not all smiles and friendly conversation. Wait times can be a challenge for both patients and staff, but patient access teams still strive to make sure the patient comes first. According to Perez, a lot of his job is ensuring that the patients are always kept informed and comfortable. “I try to make a connection with them to ensure that they have a good experience,” he says.
An integral part of providing that positive experience is integrating programs to help teams provide the best service they can despite roadblocks.
“The patient experience is the sum of all interactions but it all begins with a good first impression,” says Armando Carvajal, manager of IT and training operations, who subsequently implemented a new-hire orientation program for the on-site patient access team called Impressions. The five-hour course has one simple objective: to inspire and equip all front line, on-site patient access associates with the necessary skills to effectively and efficiently handle all types of customer interactions while providing a memorable and exceptional patient experience.
Patient Access Representatives make up one of the largest enrollments in the University’s Essentials of Leadership program, which provides foundational training and coaching for University leaders, and are active in the University’s culture transformation, being trained on the new leadership traits, behaviors, and service standards.
“We train and track metrics around service and performance,” said Salmut. “But it takes special people to do this work. It comes from the heart.”
Now 20, Adriel Afanador still visits Bascom Palmer, though not as frequently. Life hasn’t been easy for the Afanadors, but they are still grateful for the people at UM who helped ease their long journey. “Everyone, all the people there, are awesome,” Afanador said.