HUDSON — Ever since he began working to secure money for the hurricane shelter that opened last year, state Sen. Mike Fasano has pushed for a critical component of the new facility: a year-round health clinic for the uninsured and under-insured.
But the clinic, expected to open by February at the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter, will take care of only one body part: teeth.
Premier Community HealthCare Group narrowed the mission of the clinic to dental services because officials had to set up an operation that would be self-sustaining once a $1.25 million state grant runs out, said chief executive officer Kim Schuknecht.
The clinic has not been able to win federal money that could have covered a wider range of services, and clinic officials decided that helping fill the demand for dental services from both the uninsured and Medicaid patients would be the best way to keep the doors open.
"It's a huge need," said Premier chief financial officer Donna DeLong. "That's our best shot at being able to equal out."
The $7.7 million hurricane shelter opened almost a year ago on Denton Avenue. None of the funding that paid for its construction could go toward operating costs at the health clinic.
Other factors also came into play in Premier's decision to offer only dental services.
The Pasco County Health Department already runs a WIC and family health services clinic at the shelter.
Dade City-based Premier expanded into west Pasco last year, treating thousands at its space behind Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey.
Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, got the $1.25 million for Premier's health clinic in the last legislative session and also helped get a donation of dental equipment through one of the state agencies.
He said he was not disappointed that the Premier clinic will offer limited services at this point, though he said he would keep hunting for more state money that could allow the clinic to expand in the future. He said he hoped Premier could eventually win some federal money for it as well.
"I'm just pleased they're going to use the facility to provide some kind of service to uninsured and under-insured," he said. "Whatever they want to do, I'm fine with that. There's definitely a need for dental."
Few dentists accept Medicaid coverage. And every year, hundreds of people stand in line — some of them even camp out overnight — for a New Port Richey dentist who provides free care for one day.
Premier would charge the uninsured a fee based on their income. Medicaid and privately insured patients would also be accepted, and that income would help offset operational costs.
The clinic will employ about 10 people. Most of the $1.25 million in state funding will be split between salaries and equipment, Schuknecht said.
"It'll be a state-of-the-art facility," she said. "With the money Sen. Fasano got us, we'll really be able to make it a nice facility."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.