Hernando County's only free clinic sees sharp increase in patients

SPRING HILL — Business is booming these days at the Crescent Community Clinic, Hernando County's only free health care site for uninsured or low-income people age 18 to 64.

Since July, when the clinic moved from Broad Street in Brooksville to Winchester Plaza, 5244 Commercial Way, requests for services have increased by 200 percent, said manager Barbara Sweinberg.

"There have been 300 new primary health care patients, 100 dental patients and 25 mental health patients," she said recently.

Mental health services — provided by two psychiatrists, one psychologist and an assistant — were added in early July. They do not treat alcohol or drug abuse, Sweinberg emphasized.

She attributes the influx of patients to the clinic's move to a more populated area, as well as the continuing problem of high unemployment in the county, which was at 13.7 percent in July. Unemployed people typically lose their health care insurance along with their paychecks, Sweinberg said.

"Most of our patients have been unemployed for a long period of time," she added.

To qualify for clinic services, people must be low- to moderate-income. The federally set formula also takes into account the number of people in the patient's household.

While the paperwork doesn't take long to qualify a patient, the unwieldy number of applicants has lengthened the process to three to four weeks, Sweinberg said.

"Since the July 12 open house, by July 18 we had 640 phone calls on our answering machine. We'd take 40 off at a time, but we had so many of them it was overwhelming," she said, adding that volunteers staff the phones and perform other duties.

To expedite matters, the clinic has instituted an online application. Prospective patients must download from the Internet an application from the clinic's Website, crescentclinic.org.

If a computer is not available, Sweinberg suggests going to a public library to use one.

The application should be returned by mail to 5244 Commercial Way, Spring Hill 34606. After evaluation, the patient will then be given an appointment for the first available service by physicians schooled to respond to particular conditions, Sweinberg explained.

"Most (patients) are diabetic," she said, adding, "hypertension, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, CAPD (breathing disorders). Actually, it's across the board."

While nonprofessional volunteers are in good supply, Sweinberg said, more doctors and dentists are needed to give their services. They need not practice at the clinic; they can accept qualified patients in their own offices, she said.

Physicians typically volunteer their services the first three Saturdays of each month. Medical specialists are on call from Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals and Oak Hill Hospital. They, too, donate their expertise.

The new clinic was made possible by a $100,000 grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Florida. The clinic receives no government support, Sweinberg pointed out, but relies totally on donations.

Although physicians, support and office services are free, the costs of consumables like exam table paper, disposable needles and swabs mount, Sweinberg noted.

So, financial donations continue to be needed.

Beth N. Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

>>FAST FACTS

Need care?

To contact the Crescent Community Clinic, call (352) 610-9916. The fax number is (352) 610-9915.

Hernando County's only free clinic sees sharp increase in patients 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 8:51pm]

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