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Meet the navigators: Epilepsy Foundation of Florida

Testing

Staff at Doral-based Epilepsy Foundation of Florida are immersed in online training to be navigators on the healthcare exchange/  Patricia Borns photo

@patriciaborns  The door to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida opens to a scene as colorful and busy as the drab hallway outside is not. Children's drawings cover the walls interspersed with prints by Van Gogh. "He had epilepsy," says special projects director Judy Clauser, with a hint of pride. The organization is one of two that received navigator grants from the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services to help uninsured Miami-Dade residents seek healthcare coverage on the new exchange.

"We're thrilled to have been chosen," CEO Karen Egozi said upon learning that her foundation had received a $637,686 grant to serve as a navigator in 35 Florida counties, with an emphasis on Miami-Dade. But the welcome from some quarters has been less than forthcoming.

First, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent ominous letters to Egozi's and other navigator groups that they must disclose all documentation and conversations related to their work in a briefing this month, as they're trying to prepare for Oct. 1 when the health exchanges open. Most recently, the Florida Department of Health ordered county health units not to allow the navigators onto their property to help uninsured people sign up for subsidized health coverage.

But that doesn't seem to be slowing the Epilepsy Foundation down. Nini Acebo Hadwen, a community resource specialist, had finished all her training modules and was en route to get fingerprinted at a local UPS, one of several requirements Florida legislated in order for navigators to practice in the state. "The training is intense. You have to barricade your office. But I'm a doctor, so I know how the healthcare system works," Hadwen said.

The organization has many assets that will help it perform the navigator's role. It already serves 35 Florida counties with a toll-free multilingual call center in Spanish, Portuguese and Creole as well as English. It has no vested interest in any insurance product, and its services aren't tied to Medicare or Medicaid. While not well known to the wider Miami-Dade public, the staff is partnering with organizations like Catalyst Miami and Sant La in Little Haiti that are. 

For information or assistance with the coming health exchange, the foundation's toll-free number is 877-553-7453.

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Sherry Torres, top, and Maylin Candina, bottom, dig into their online navigator training modules in preparation for the opening of the health exchange on Oct. 1. Patricia Borns photos.

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