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Planned free clinic may move to new site

The building that was to house Hernando County's first free clinic may be too dilapidated to use.

Its siding is rotten.

Its floor supports are cracked.

And its bathrooms and entries are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs.

Those structural problems canceled this month's ribbon-cutting.

And the building's deficiencies may force clinic planners to change its location.

"I hope we can resolve this in the next couple of weeks," County Administrator Chuck Hetrick said.

Organizer George Reimlinger also hopes for a speedy resolution.

The delay in opening the clinic is discouraging to the 20 to 25 physicians, 15 nurses and nearly 20 clerical workers who have volunteered to donate time to patients, Reimlinger said.

"It's been quite a while" since the recruitment of volunteers, he said. "I have to go back now and contact all my people over again and make sure they're still enthusiastic."

The Hernando County Medical Society and a cluster of volunteers have spent two years trying to get the clinic started.

The clinic is designed to serve the estimated 10,000 Hernando County families without medical insurance.

It will be staffed by family-medicine doctors, who will refer complex cases to volunteer specialists for treatment in their offices.

Initially, the clinic was to be housed in the new county Health Department offices just south of downtown Brooksville.

Then, organizers looked at the small office near the old Health Department building on U.S. 41 as the site for the one-night-a-week clinic.

But when county building officials inspected the building, they found a list of problems.

"It was a Deltona (Corp.) office building that they had when they opened Spring Hill," said deputy building official George Rodriguez. "Way back when, it was donated to the county and has been used back there by different groups of state and county agencies."

The building has "deficiencies with some of the floor joists; there are rotten boards and stuff," Rodriguez said. "I have no idea what it would take to fix it."

Hetrick said he is waiting for a cost estimate to be provided to him. But he expects that the cost of repairing the building and bringing it up to accessibility standards will be too high.

"I want to see the report on the existing building, so we'll know if it's feasible to fix it up," he said. "I kind of doubt that it is.

"If we determine it isn't, we'll have to look at a new site."

Reimlinger, the clinic coordinator, says the physicians and other volunteers have been eager to get the facility open.

"All this now is in Hetrick's hands," he said.

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