Serving Children in Need with a Humble Heart

Apr 18, 2019 at 06:58 pm by Staff


Growing up in a Wisconsin cheese town during the 1970s and '80s, Debra Andree, MD, scoured the local library for inspiration. At the age of 11, she stumbled across a Clara Barton biography, fascinated by the story of the young nurse who birthed the American Red Cross.

"I was so intrigued and inspired by Clara's ability to ease suffering in others and truly help so many people in need," said Andree who admitted that she couldn't stop thinking about how amazing she felt Barton to be.

"And she was a shy person," said Andree. "I identified with that."

Andree shared her enthusiasm to become a nurse with her dad, who questioned why stop there? Become a doctor! "I sensed there was more potential in people than I was seeing in some, due to an under-resourced area," she said. "Developing that potential was key."

Her medical journey - first, a pediatric nurse, and second, a pediatrician at Community Health Center (CHC) in Orlando, began with babysitting jobs and work as a summer camp counselor. Always in her forethought: working with children.

"I am in awe now of all the reading material available to my children and me - and at the instantaneous availability of it. Amazing! I am also keenly aware of the gifts and interests manifested in people at a young age and how that plays out in life with education or job choices and careers," she said.

"I'm particularly intrigued by the stages of development and how that manifests at each age," said Andree. "For example, the stage of development where a child has magical thinking is particularly interesting. It allows me to have a tea party in my office with a child when there's no tea. I can also talk to a patient's imaginary friend and learn the greatest details about this 'friend.'"

Andree earned her nursing degree from the University of Florida, followed by a medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine. After completing a three-year residency in pediatrics in 2002 at then-Orlando Regional Healthcare, she joined CHC, where she's been a loyal mainstay. In 2013, she was promoted to Chief of Pediatrics.

Andree, a married mother of three - Anders, 15; Eelin, 13, and Anika, 11 - along with her physician husband, also serves as Pediatric Education Director for the Florida State University (FSU) School of Medicine. She's able to juggle various roles because, as she puts it, pediatric medicine is "also my hobby."

"The greatest rewards of being a pediatrician come in the small moments with a child, not in the glossy awards - although those are nice, too," said Andree, pointing to a letter written once a year by a patient, accompanied by sweet pictures, and usually ending with a plea to "not have a shot (vaccination)."

"This year, she included a pink beaded bracelet to further persuade me on the shot issue, which I found so humorous," she said. "Of course, she received her vaccination and ... decided to let me keep the bracelet. I wore it proudly in front of her. She reassured me the shot wasn't that bad. These are the moments that remain for me."

At CHC, she also heads the pharmacy team. Pharmacy director Darren Marsh, PharmD, "is the brains and powerhouse guiding these operations. (CHC CFO) Mark Dickinson once told me that when you have a talented person doing a great job, just get out of their way. So, with Darren and his talented team, my job is very easy."

Orlando Medical News talked with Dr. Andree about Community Health Centers and how they serve the Orlando area.

OMN: Tell me about CHC and when and how you came to join the community?

Andree: Community Health Centers, Inc. (CHC) was established in West Orange county in 1972 by a group of Catholic Nuns. CHC is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides quality and compassionate primary healthcare services to insured, uninsured, underinsured, and underserved children and adults within Central Florida. CHC accepts Medicaid, Medicare and most private insurance plans. A Sliding Discount Program is available for those with or without insurance. CHC provides care to approximately 70,000 patients each year in the Apopka, Bithlo, Clermont, Forest City, Lake Ellenor, Leesburg, Meadow Woods, Pine Hills, South Lake, Tavares and Winter Garden communities. Margaret Brennan, CEO, leads the organization with her strong leadership skills and fresh perspective on community involvement. Nathaniel Friends, CHC Board Chair, and Tim McKinney, Immediate Past Board Chair, lead a very involved CHC Board of Directors that contribute to the overall success of CHC. All of the talented and diverse providers along with the medical staff are the driving force of the organization and commitment to quality healthcare for our wonderful CHC patients.

I joined CHC after I finished residency and have been serving patients for over 16 years. I started as a general pediatrician, then became Chief of Pediatrics, later Associate Medical Director and then transitioned to Chief Medical Officer/Vice-President. I'm grateful for all the wonderful teachers, attendings, colleagues, friends and family over the years that assisted me on this journey. It is a privilege and honor to serve CHC.

OMN: What healthcare services does CHC provide?

Andree: CHC provides: Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Pediatric and Adult Dental, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Optometry and Behavioral Health. CHC, also, has their own low-cost pharmacies, on-site laboratories and X-ray.

OMN: How many locations does CHC have and how many patients are you serving annually? Are there plans for further growth in the near future?

Andree: We have 13 Central Florida centers and are the medical and dental home to approximately 70,000 patients, each year. We are opening a brand-new center in the Four Corners area in Lake County near the Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk county lines in early 2020.

OMN: How do patients find your services and how are you funded?

Andree: Patients can find us at or by calling us at 407-905-8827. As an FQHC, we receive some of our funding from Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. We must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on family size and income. The rest of our funding comes from patient fees, insurance re-imbursement, other grants and fundraising.

OMN: What partnerships does CHC have with hospitals and clinics?

Andree: Community Health Centers refers to and is a referral source as a medical home for all hospitals and free clinics in the area. Our obstetricians deliver more than 1,000 babies, each year, at AdventHealth for Women in Orlando. We provide Care Transition Specialists (RNs) that round at Orlando Health-Health Central Hospital, AdventHealth Apopka and Leesburg Regional Medical Center. The purpose of this position is to improve health outcomes through coordinating care, educating patients, building trust between patients and medical practitioners.

OMN: Is CHC accredited and/or a patient centered medical home?

Andree: Yes, we are accredited as a patient centered medical and dental home by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc. (AAAHC).