ST. PETERSBURG — For decades, the bustling St. Petersburg Free Clinic has operated largely out of an old post office building.
That will soon change.
The clinic recently bought two buildings in Pinellas County, said executive director Beth Houghton. One will house its growing health center, which provides free medical services for low-income people who are uninsured. The other will house its expanded food bank.
The new facilities will help the nonprofit carry out its mission of providing basic services to those in need, Houghton said. That's especially true for its disease management programs, which have grown in recent years.
"We want to be more than a place people go when they are sick," she said. "We want to be a place that helps people be well. That takes space."
The project is "beyond important," said St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
"Food insecurity is one of the leading social determinants of health in our community," she said. "It affects every age, race, neighborhood. . . . This expansion of their capacity is going to make a significant difference in the health care landscape in St. Petersburg."
Currently, the clinic's health center, food bank, food pantry and administrative offices are at 863 Third Ave N. (It also runs three shelters at different locations.) The cramped first-floor space is less than ideal for a health center, Houghton said. Space for patient consultations is limited.
The center provided 13,000 services last year, ranging from wellness screenings to more specialized care.
Earlier this year, with the help of a gift from retired business executive David Baldwin, the clinic bought a 7,000-square-foot building at 5501 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg for $1.6 million.
The plan: to move the entire health center there this summer.
Transforming the space shouldn't be difficult.
"It was designed as a clinic space," Houghton said of the facility, which used to be a medical practice. "It will give patients privacy and be functional for nurses and staff."
After the move, the clinic plans to add dermatology to its offerings. It will also expand its wound care, chiropractic care, acupuncture and physical therapy services, as well as its diabetes and cardiovascular disease management programs.
The clinic is also in the process of expanding its food bank into a 14,000-square-foot warehouse at 3115 44th Ave. N in Lealman. The volume of food has jumped from 1.6 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds in the last seven years, Houghton said.
The clinic bought the building for $820,000 in 2016 and has begun renovations. The purchase was made possible by a gift from St. Petersburg businesswoman Bonnie Hechtkopf. The building will be called the Jared S. Hechtkopf Community Food Bank in memory of her late husband.
The clinic will continue to occupy its existing building. The downtown facility will be used to grow the We Help program, which provides emergency assistance to people in need.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.