SPRING HILL — Larry Robinson anxiously paced the walkway in front of Crescent Community Clinic, waiting for his turn to see gastroenterologist Dr. Rodwan Hiba.
For the 46-year-old, unemployed Robinson, who has no health insurance, his best hope had been that the pains in his stomach would go away on their own.
They didn't. Over several weeks, they had gotten so bad that Robinson would double over the moment he got out of bed.
"I finally couldn't stand it anymore," he said. "I needed medical help, bad."
So on a recent Saturday morning, Robinson sat in a waiting room with two dozen others who, because of their financial status, have no other place to turn in Hernando County.
The clinic, which moved in July from its original Brooksville location to 5244 Commercial Way in Spring Hill, is run entirely by a volunteer staff of doctors, nurses and medical assistants who concentrate on providing basic health and dental services.
Opened in 2008 by a group of local Muslim doctors, the clinic has performed more than 6,000 patient services, according to Barbara Sweinberg, director of volunteer services.
But with the faltering economy, demand for services has increased more than 200 percent over the past year, said Sweinberg, who has been with the clinic since it opened.
"It's nonstop from the time we get here in the morning," Sweinberg said. "We used to take walk-ins, but we've gotten to the point where we can't do that anymore. It's just too busy."
Indeed, a typical Saturday morning finds the clinic humming like any busy emergency room. Medical staffers scurry to screen patients and collect information about their condition. The four examination rooms are rarely unoccupied during the six hours the clinic is in operation.
"It's like controlled chaos," said Dwayne Bryan, a medical assistant who has been volunteering at the clinic since June 2010. "You have to keep an open mind and be ready for anything."
It's not uncommon for many of those who cannot afford health care or insurance to end up in emergency rooms for primary care, often after their initial health problems have become worse. According to state figures, Hernando County ranks 41st out of 67 counties in Florida when it comes to overall community health.
Additionally, 23 percent of the county's population under age 65 has no health insurance.
For Barbara Hammond, the clinic has been something of a godsend. A single mother with two children, she cannot afford health insurance for herself. Although her kids are covered under Medicaid, the 44-year-old part-time hair stylist had not seen a doctor in nearly eight years.
Two weeks prior to her recent clinic visit, she started having severe headaches. A blood pressure check at a drugstore revealed that she might be suffering from hypertension.
"I probably would have never known until I had a stroke or something," Hammond said.
Dr. Mohammad Joud, an Spring Hill internist and one of the core group of physicians who volunteer at the clinic, said that the facility's goal is to provide clients with qualified screenings and education for illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and breathing disorders so that their conditions won't worsen. If more direct care is needed, the clinic has a growing network of local specialists to whom they can refer patients.
"Treating a condition before it gets worse is very important," Foud said. "We feel that money shouldn't be an issue when it comes to health care. That is the reason why we're here."
The primary health clinic began as a Saturday-only operation, but has since expanded to other days as physicians are available. In addition, the facility now performs dental extractions and infection control.
Funded initially by the volunteer doctors who established it, the facility receives no government support. Much of the equipment and supplies are donated by individuals and businesses. The new clinic was made possible by a $100,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.
"The public has come to see that our facility provides a valuable service to their community," Sweinberg said. "It's a wonderful example of how the community benefits when people reach out to help others."
Although patients are not charged for services, Sweinberg said that every client is expected to contribute what they can.
"I think it's important for people to remember that just because we're free doesn't mean it is without worth," she said.
As the clinic faces growing demand, Sweinberg hopes to bring more physicians and dentists on board. Her wish lists includes a gynocologist, a cardiologist, another gastroenterologist, plus more primary care physicians and nursing support.
"The lack of low-cost health care isn't a problem that's likely to go away anytime soon," Sweinberg said. "It's only going to keep growing. Having more resources would go a long way in helping to lighten the load."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]