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Brandon Outreach Clinic serves needy patients with volunteers

BRANDON — To hear Larry Bowman tell it, his job is the best in the world.

He helps people in need and works alongside people who are always in a good mood.

The fact that Bowman and his co-workers don't get paid scarcely matters.

"I have a job where people work for a paycheck, and everybody gripes," said Bowman. "Here, nobody gripes. It's family."

Bowman is the pharmacist for the Brandon Outreach Clinic. The clinic, which provides free medical services for people in eastern Hillsborough County, celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month.

Bowman has been there since the beginning.

"It's payback," said Bowman, who works full time for a mail-order pharmacy. "The Lord got me through pharmacy school, he gave me this ability, he brought me to Florida. I'm just paying back."

Bowman is among the many medical professionals and office workers who volunteer at the clinic.

"Some come in every day, some come in once a week, some come in once a month," said executive director Debbie Meegan. "The volunteers who work here absolutely love it. They can't stop talking about it. They really care about human beings."

The clinic's mission is to help the "working poor" — people who don't have insurance and can't afford to pay their own medical bills, but who don't qualify for government programs.

The clinic has volunteer screeners who evaluate new patients and make sure they get the help they need, either through the clinic or through other agencies and programs.

"We don't turn anybody away," Meegan said.

A group of local men and women — a few doctors, a nurse, a dentist and a lawyer— came up with the idea for the clinic in the 1980s. The clinic's first home was a small building with a leaky roof, donated by St. Mark's United Church of Christ.

There was only room inside for one patient at a time.

When workers widened Parsons Road, there wasn't enough parking left for businesses, so the county gave the clinic and another nonprofit a new building in an old strip mall at 517 N Parsons Road.

It took a lot of work, but Meegan and her volunteers turned their new environs into something that looks very much like a traditional doctor's office, with sparkling waiting rooms and examination rooms. There's also an on-site pharmacy and a pediatric area.

The clinic services about 35 patients a week and provides lab work for another dozen, Meegan said.

The clinic can handle most medical situations. But when a complicated or specialized case arises, clinic volunteers call on a network of doctors in the community.

The area's growing population and the worsening economy increased the clinic's workload recently and strained its finances.

"We're strapped," Meegan said.

The clinic gets by on donations from individuals and community groups. It eschews funding from more formal grants and government programs that might impose restrictions on how it treats its patients.

"We want to make sure that every person who walks through our door gets help," Meegan said. "So we don't have rules. We have guidelines, and we find a way to help everyone."

Although the clinic always welcomes donations and volunteers, a more pressing need is for more medical professionals to see occasional patients in their own offices.

"Brandon is big enough now that if everyone shared the burden, we could have a network of doctors that each saw one patient a year and that would do it," Meegan said.

Brandon Outreach Clinic serves needy patients with volunteers 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:31am]
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