After I started volunteering at the Crescent Community Medical Clinic in Spring Hill about a year ago, I became aware that there are a lot more people who cannot afford decent medical care in Hernando County than I anticipated. No doubt the situation is the same in many other parts of our country.
The clinic serves the uninsured and the indigent of this county and is run by volunteers. Every day there are more calls for appointments than can be handled. The type of patients we used to see when a Doctors' Free Clinic started in 1992 (but closed a few years later) were mostly welfare recipients or subsistence wage-earners and occasionally drug addicts and alcoholics. Now the patient population utilizing the clinic's services has dramatically changed.
Leo, 63, is a case in point. As he walked into the room, I was surprised that he didn't quite fit the bill of our usual clientele. Leo looked like an executive. On examination, I was very concerned at his out-of-control hypertension and diabetes and asked if he had been taking his prescribed medicines.
"Ever since I lost my job, I find it difficult to buy the medicines; you know, I lost my insurance, too,'' he told me on the verge of tears. "I have two kids in college and a disabled wife. I need to put some food on the table."
This was a revelation. After seeing more patients, it became clear that the paradigm has shifted. The newly created poor are the ones who have lost their jobs in the wake of America's economic crisis. Day after day, I hear the same story. These are part of the 48 million uninsured and indigent persons living across America. About 47 million are on food stamps.
Taking care of these people is a responsibility that should be shouldered by the entire community. It is not that they do not want to work. As one person put it, "Who is going to hire me, a 60-year-old with medical problems? Once you lose your job, you are done."
Unfortunately, they have nowhere to go for their medical care but to visit the emergency room when their illness escalates into a crisis; then treatment becomes more difficult and the prognosis, poorer.
It is in this context that a few of the doctors in Hernando County started the Crescent Community Clinic in 2008. Since then, the needy have utilized the services to manage their chronic medical conditions that otherwise would not have been recognized or treated. It is purely a voluntary center offering medical, dental and mental health services at no cost to eligible clients.
Most of our patients suffer from common ailments like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, back pain, arthritis and depression. There are at least 25 new patients every week. The goal is to stabilize patients and provide follow-up care so they don't clog emergency rooms.
Maureen Soliman, co-director of the clinic, reported 3,919 patient visits over the past 15 months, saving the county almost $4 million. There is no financial support from the county or state. The biggest challenge is funding. The clinic needs to maintain the office, pay the rent, buy supplies and, when possible, provide some free starter samples of medicines.
The physicians and staff members who work here are committed to the cause. The clinic stands as a true testimonial to the altruistic spirit of the volunteers and is a beacon of hope for all the medically indigent in this community. However, in order to continue providing these valuable services, the clinic has to depend on the generosity of our community.
To contribute, contact Barbara Sweinberg, Crescent Community Clinic, at (352) 263-1218.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan is a retired cardiologist in Brooksville.