MARLENE CHINCHILLA – PATIENT EXPERIENCE COORDINATOR TEAM LEAD, TAMPA
Our employees are all patient care champions, but some go the extra mile and we want to give them the recognition they deserve. They embody the PPOA values known as S.I.T.E. – Safety, Integrity, Teamwork, Empathy – which informs our service to patients and the community through high quality health care.
Marlene Chinchilla may not be the one who holds your hand at the doctor’s office; she’s the one who does it virtually, over the phone. She’s the comforting voice on the phone, the one who checks out your insurance, the one who patiently answers your questions about procedures; the one who calls every patient “honey.”
People like her, known as patient experience coordinators, are essential to a healthcare practice, and they have one of the most difficult jobs – plural.
At any given time, you will see Chinchilla working two or three phones and two computer screens, a trainee perched by her side. She juggles the calls effortlessly, pointing out what she’s doing to the newcomer. On one line is a patient who needs to reschedule a laser spine procedure; on another, someone who isn’t clear what his insurance covers; on the third is a doctor who wants to make a referral to one of PPOA’s 40-plus pain management specialists.
It’s a stressful, fastball environment that would break some people, but Chinchilla takes it all in stride. “I’m a natural multi-tasker” she says.
While her skills may come naturally, they were honed in a radically different first career. A native of Miami, Chinchilla earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work at Miami Gardens’s St. Thomas University and pursued a career in social services.
She worked at the Florida Department of Children and Families in various positions: case manager for drug-dependent clients, hospice services, and therapist for some of the state’s most troubled youth at G4S in Avon Park.
“Working in social services made me realize how precious life is. These kids – things happened to them that were not their fault, usually involving a parent’s drug use,” she says. “Sadly, many of these kids would do something to wind up back in jail as soon as they got out.”
After being attacked in a riot she hit the reset button in her life and made the career switch into medicine. “I was a single mom of two kids,” she says. Chinchilla became a receptionist at a medical group in Sebring, Fla., working her way up to insurance verification and records management.
She and her two children have always been extremely close; so when her son Nicholas Gillespie got into the National Aviation Academy in Tampa, she didn’t hesitate to look for work nearby.
Chinchilla started at PPOA’s Tampa headquarters in 2015. Her daughter, Yessenia Sanchez, also works as a PPOA patient care coordinator, while Nicholas works for Boeing in aircraft maintenance in Jacksonville, Fla.
With her children settled, Marlene Chinchilla can devote more time with her work family. As team lead, she keeps track of her fellow representatives’ patient interactions: the team of 12 to 15 handles up to 1,500 calls a day.
Chinchilla always tries to foster a cohesive, affirmative spirit. “I try to be positive and make sure we work together as a team,” she says. “And I always try to thank everyone at the end of the workday.”
The toughness and empathy she developed as a social worker helps her deal not only with her coworkers in a stressful environment, but with the unique needs of chronic pain patients.
“I just go with the flow,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the patients. I try to make them feel better.”