Health is where the Heart is

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Posted May 21, 2021 | Sadie Fitzpatrick, Columnist

Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.

[Rigoberto Perdomo]

Conversations during a global pandemic are weird. While we used to ask our friends, “Where did you go on vacation?” or “How was that concert?” we now talk about what places have the most openings for vaccine appointments, where to buy the most breathable face masks and we compare vaccine side effects. We need things to get back to normal.

I knew I wanted to receive the vaccine to protect myself and my loved ones. Though I knew little about the Heart of Florida Health Center, I heard from friends that it was the best place to get my COVID-19 shot because of their availability and easy sign-up process. I booked my appointment, anxiously counting down the days.

On a cloudless Monday morning in early April, my GPS led me to a storefront that houses the Heart of Florida Health Center’s Vaccine Annex.

I took my place in line with about 75 other people to check-in. My forms and identification were clutched tightly to my chest for fear I would misplace them and be ineligible to receive this coveted immunization.

The check-in process was seamless, and I joined the snaking queue of vaccine hopefuls as we waited to be called. We chatted amongst ourselves, straining to hear one another over the din of the rattling air conditioner and through our required face coverings.

We spoke of this vaccine as the antidote to the last 14 months of uncertainty and isolation.

Many were getting the shot in hopes of returning to a sense of normalcy— traveling, attending concerts and resuming work in an office. Others cited immunocompromised loved ones at home as their reason.

And then, it was my turn. I was told to take a seat at any open vaccination station, and I landed at the station of Miss Norma. A wisp of a woman with a head full of curly hair and a soothing voice, Norma calmly explained what to expect in regards to efficacy and side effects.

A slight pinch, a Band-Aid and instructions to come see her in three weeks completed my first dose. In less than two minutes, I was on my way to becoming 80 percent inoculated against this disease that has ravaged the globe.

As of Monday, May 17, Heart of Florida Health Center has inoculated 52,435 people against COVID-19, and I’m so grateful to be one of them.

Though they have contributed greatly to the COVID-19 vaccination effort in our community, Heart of Florida provides so much more than just immunizations. They offer quality primary medical, dental and mental health care to all residents of Marion County, but particularly to those who are not insured or who have financial limitations.

Fees for services are discounted on a sliding fee scale according to one’s household income based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines. They serve 30,000 patients annually with Family Medicine as their most utilized service.

After offering the vaccine to their clients, Heart of Florida quickly realized they needed to expand their vaccination efforts to the entire community.

In just four days, they mobilized a team of nurses and staff to open the Vaccine Annex.

Levonda Goodson, LPN, director of Clinical Operations for Heart of Florida Health Center, leads the Center’s vaccination efforts.

“As an organization, reaching out to the community to provide these vaccines aligns with our mission,” Goodson explained. “This effort is very important to the community. This is my home. I didn’t even blink at the opportunity to help vaccinate people in Ocala. I wanted it to be an experience that people would talk about years down the road, about how they had a good experience and how we took care of them.”

Many of the thousands of individuals who received the vaccine through the Annex had never heard about Heart of Florida and its mission.

“Providing these vaccines introduced our mission to people who may not have known who we were before,” noted Heather James, director of Public Relations and Marketing for Heart of Florida. “It gave us an opportunity to show what we do all day, every day.”

There’s talk of COVID-19 booster shots and a need for annual inoculations against this terrible virus. I’ll be visiting the team at Heart of Florida again for all of my immunization needs and intend to serve as a passionate advocate for their important mission.

Give Heart of Florida Health Center a shot—and get the shot.

To learn more about Heart of Florida Health Center, visit

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