Pinellas health officials want to expand medical care for the poor, including the possibility of setting up clinics in the county's most impoverished neighborhoods.
Within the five poorest areas of the county, more than 68,000 residents who are living at or below the poverty line don't have access to primary health care, according to a county report. Those areas include: South St. Petersburg, North Greenwood, Highpoint, Lealman and East Tarpon Springs.
To alleviate the burden on emergency rooms and lower the county's own costs, Health and Community Services Director Gwendolyn Warren has proposed opening clinics in each of those areas, staffed by doctors and nurses from partnering hospitals. Most of the funding would come from federal grants, Medicaid reimbursements and Warren's current budget, she told commissioners, adding that she was not asking for additional money.
Exactly how much each clinic would cost was unclear. The commission gave Warren permission on Tuesday to hire a consultant to study the costs and possible locations of the clinics, which, if they are eventually approved, would be opened in a five- to 10-year period. The first site would likely open in Lealman.
"I do not envision that we're ever going to come back here and say here are five clinics, let's go," Warren said. "I think we're going to do them one at a time."
Pinellas currently has five health care clinics operated by the Florida Department of Health, a point raised by several commissioners at the meeting.
"I just don't want to see us build more new stuff when there are things out there that could be better utilized to meet the need," said Commissioner Susan Latvala.
But Warren said the numbers of poor people flocking to emergency rooms suggests that existing clinics aren't enough. Nor are the health clinics easily reached by people who don't own cars.
"I believe it's to our advantage to have a medical clinic that's in walking distance to these communities," she said.