Holiday Decorations Transform USF Health Clinic


With her knack for decorating, Carmen Guzman has helped make Dermatology an award-winning zone in the USF Health Clinic for the past 10 years.

It starts every year in September and by Halloween the explosion of color and festive décor is impossible to miss! If you’re ‘in the zone’ of changing leaves, smiling pumpkins & scarecrows, pilgrims and mistletoe, chances are you’re at the medical clinic of USF Health.

It’s a four month extravaganza of color and festive holiday décor that starts with the first Fall breeze in September and stays up through January! All of it thanks to the enthusiastic staff at the clinic on Bruce B. Downs Blvd and Holly Avenue, located on the university campus of USF Health.

“It makes us feel good because the patients love it so much”, says Carmen Guzman, the self described “provocateur” in the bunch. For ten years straight, Carmen in Zone A-Dermatology has beat out the competition – almost always the first to decorate. “As soon as Labor Day is over, I start telling the girls ‘Okay, it’s time!’

Meet some of the Decorating Divas who help transform the clinic.

More than 100 staff employees in a handful of “zones” transform the entire clinic. It’s a clinic tradition thanks to a close-knit group of veterans who started this more than a decade ago.

Darlene Walden in Zone B- General Medicine and Pediatrics is the unofficial “den mother”, showering colleagues across zones with trinkets and gadgets for display each year.

Among the core group of veteran decorating divas, by zone: Carmen Guzman in A, Darlene Walden and Christina Riley in B, Shari Steffer in C, and Joan Vinci and Nicholle Bennett in E. Near the X-ray machines, Lydia Gaponiuk (EEG-EMG Labs) has been delighting patients for 25 years with her decorations. 15-year veteran Corleen Crowley works her magic from atop a ladder. Radiology colleague, Angela Conahey, is her right hand.

“This year has been so ‘loquito’ – a bit crazy, says Ms. Crowley in Spanglish. “Right now, I have a full size broom out on deck with skeletons and tiny witches. The broom even has a parking tag, so it’s perfectly legal!” she jokes.

Corleen Crowley in the X-ray Department poses for a picture with her broom – fully equipped with a parking tag!

“The patients love it from the minute they walk in”, says Ms. Guzman. “Our patients will stand at the desk and say ‘I love your decorations! Everything looks so beautiful. Are ya’ll having a competition?’”

According to veteran staffers, some patients will even schedule their doctor appointments around the clinic’s decorating extravaganza. Sherri Steffer, a 20-year veteran & staffer in Zone D- Family Medicine says “I’ve had patients say: ‘Well, my doctor wants me to come back in three months but that’ll be the New Year, but that means I’ll miss the decorations. So, can you schedule me in December instead, so that I can see them?’ They just love it so much!”

Clinic staffers say the decorating goes beyond getting in the holiday spirit. They describe it as their way of helping take care of patients. “At USF Health, it’s not just patients and doctors. Our patients are taken care of on many levels”, says Ms. Guzman. “At the front desks, we’re doing our part too. It’s about making our patients feel better, inside and out.” Staffers say the smiling pumpkins and candy cane lights help some patients feel less nervous about the ailments or scheduled surgeries that bring them to the clinic. “They’ll tell us that they’re nervous when they come in, but then the decorations give them something else to think about.” says Ms. Guzman, “It helps when we can talk about something else that doesn’t have anything to do with their procedures. It sets a totally different tone.”

Staffers tell touching stories of elderly patients reminiscing about their own traditions in holidays past. “Some of them tell us that coming here reminds them of when they were still active enough to decorating at home”, says Ms. Guzman noting that one female patient surprised her by arriving for her doctor’s visit carrying a collection of Easter decorations. “She brought me all of her Easter stuff!” says Ms. Guzman with a broad smile. “She said ‘Since you all decorate, I’d like you to use the things I used in my home.”

And after a moment of reflection concludes for the entire group, “It’s definitely a bonding experience!”

From L to R: Decorating Divas Corleen Crowley and Lydia Gaponiuk. Ms. Gaponiuk holds the winning record – winning the clinic’s only two “official” Holiday Decorating Contests. She first won in the early 90’s and in 1998 sharing the win with with Ms. Crowley.

To the entire staff at the USF Health Clinic, we salute you! Space limitations prevent us from listing everyone’s names – know that you are much appreciated!!!

Story by Lissette Campos, USF Health Communications
Photography by Eric Younghans, USF Health Media Center