Fifteen months after its ribbon cutting and nine months after a million-dollar state allocation became available, a planned health care clinic for the needy in Hudson has yet to treat its first patient.
It is a frustrating delay that leaves uninsured or Medicaid patients in northwest Pasco isolated from nearby affordable care. It also means Pasco taxpayers have been paying the overhead, projected at about $65,000 this year, for an underused building.
The latest delay behind the Premier Community Health Care clinic, to be located inside the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter on Denton Avenue, is attributed to reverting the facility back to its original mission — a primary care medical clinic. Plans to offer dental services exclusively — a fallback option after Premier failed to gain federal operating money for the medical clinic — have been scuttled. To accommodate the dental equipment, Premier and the county would have been required to obtain federal approval for necessary changes to the building, including exhaust vents. Federal Emergency Management Agency blessing is needed to ensure the shelter's wind protections aren't compromised.
That returned Premier to Plan A, the medical clinic, as its most attractive option even without guaranteed long-term funding. But, before the medical clinic can open, the dental-specific contracts allowing the state money to pass through county government to Premier must be rewritten. Premier now hopes to have the clinic operating this summer.
The need is great. Premier opened its first west Pasco clinic 20 months ago and that facility, leased from North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey, is operating near capacity with 4,200 patients accounting for 13,600 visits. Early statistics showed 85 percent of the clients were uninsured.
The New Port Richey clinic opened with federal stimulus money that expired March 1. It is operating under a 90-day extension granted by the federal government while Congress debates budget cuts. So, it, too, is caring for patients with its future uncertain.
The Premier clinic inside the hurricane shelter in Hudson, to be operated initially with the untapped state allocation, is expected to draw a separate pool of needy patients because the facilities are 10 miles apart and clinic clients often lack reliable transportation.
Despite the uncertain funding, the community clinics remain a vital way reach a needy population. The potential client list is the more than 70,000 local residents who lack health insurance.
Reaching the uninsured before they turn to emergency rooms for treatment cuts health care costs. Florida Hospital Zephyrhills has said previously that a third of its emergency room visits are from uninsured or underinsured patients at costs totaling $7.5 million. At the same time, the three hospitals in west Pasco reported roughly $14 million in uninsured care. It's why the hospitals, which should see their bottom lines improve with reduced indigent health care cost, also shouldn't be reluctant to assist the clinics' long-term operations.
In the meantime, the rewritten contracts should be expedited to get the Hudson clinic's doors open. Thousands of people shouldn't have to wait any longer for affordable medical care.