Serving the underserved

Written by Theresa Campbell

Medical and dental clinics in Lake County fill a void by offering health care to children and adults without insurance, yet it’s a constant push to make the community aware they exist.

Writer: Theresa Campbell

Health experts believe 20 percent of the local indigent population doesn’t know it is eligible for free medical and dental services at clinics staffed by volunteer doctors, while centers in Leesburg, Tavares, and Groveland offer sliding-fee discounts for qualifying patients.

John Riordan, director of marketing and community relations for Community Health Centers, says the Leesburg location, 225 N. 1st St., provides family medicine, gynecology, behavioral health, pediatrics, and soon will offer dental and optometry services—all part of the center’s expansion tentatively slated to be completed by late summer.

“There are not a lot of dental providers who accept Medicaid or those without insurance, so to have something for those underserved patients is going to be great,” John says.

Optometry and dental services are in demand.

“Optometry is a huge benefit, not only for pre-diabetics and diabetic patients, it’s a service that kind of complements diabetics who have some vision problems or they really need vision screenings, so this is a service that will be much needed,” says John, adding it’s vital for people to experience good dental health.

“If you ever look at dental studies for children, they start to have issues with eating when their teeth hurt,” he says. “They have cavities, and concentration is difficult in school because of tooth pain. So, good dental hygiene and good dental health put children in a much better position for the rest of their lives.”

The center has seen too many adults who have neglected dental care.

“We see them far too late,” he says. “We want to get people in when they are children, so they start doing the right things of brushing their teeth, flossing, getting dental checkups.”

Community Health Centers has 12 locations throughout Central Florida. In addition to the Leesburg site, there’s Community Health Center South Lake, 1296 Broad St., Groveland, and Community Health Center Tavares, 212 E. Main St.

The three centers in Lake County saw a total of 18,000 unduplicated patients in 2016, according to John. They accept Medicaid, Medicare, MediPass, CHIP, and Healthy Kids, and most managed care plans, including HMOs, PPOs, and private insurance plans. A sliding discount program is available for those meeting income guidelines.
“We go to community events, reminding people that we are here,” John says, adding the centers offer some extended evening hours. “We have our own low-cost pharmacy, our own lab, so they can come to one place. We try to make it really easy on our patients, so they can use our pharmacy, use our lab, all on the same day as their office visit.”

People may call 352.314.7400 for additional information about the Leesburg, Tavares or Groveland centers.

Free services for indigent
Community Medical Care Center, 1210 W. Main St., Leesburg, is a nonprofit clinic offering free primary care, specialty care, chronic disease management, and dental care to uninsured and indigent residents, ages 3-64, living in the Leesburg Regional Medical Center district, throughout Sumter County, and in southern Marion County (mostly Summerfield).

Director Tammy Halsey strives to make more people aware of the facility that serves those whose incomes fall at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person, one’s gross income cannot exceed $1,508 a month, and $500 a month for each additional family member.

“We have a wonderful group of dedicated professionals who are volunteering their time and services to help people, and we have appointments available,” says Tammy, who notes 20 percent of the local population is eligible for free health-care services.

The center sees about 600 patients a month; dental care is the most popular service.

“We currently have six dentists who are signed up to volunteer with us, and they are all retired dentists out of The Villages,” she says, adding patients first attend an oral hygiene class, where they are given a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash—everything they need to start taking care of their teeth—before an initial exam and treatment plan with a hygienist and dentist.

“We are trying to target children,” Tammy says of providing medical and dental services, wellness visits, school physicals, sports physicals, and treatment of upper respiratory infections and other childhood diseases.

“We have a pediatrician who thinks I have allowed him to retire, and that is not the case,” Tammy says. “He is available on call as needed, and we haven’t needed him. We would like to make people aware that we are here and that we do serve children. Many times, it may just be for a gap until they can get coverage for their kids.”

Most of the adult diagnoses at the center are these five conditions: hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, asthma, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and depression.

“The depression tends to go hand-in-hand with diabetes,” Tammy says.

Last year, the center saw more than 5,600 patients.

The director is proud of the services the Community Medical Care Center provides, and when patients need serious medical attention, care is provided by Leesburg Regional Medical Center.

“Patients get approved for charity care through the hospital, and they can get their procedures done, the MRIs, the ultrasound, all of those things, and we do many surgeries every year,” she says. “We like them to think of the center as their medical and dental home for their annual checkups; we don’t like a Band-Aid treatment plan.”

The center was incorporated in 1999 after being started by First Baptist Church and Leesburg Regional Medical Center. It can be reached by calling 352.787.8489.

Florida Hospital Waterman Community Primary Care Center, 2300 Kurt St., Eustis, is a free clinic that has been around for nearly 17 years, and is available for uninsured patients residing in the northeast Lake County communities of Tavares, Eustis, Mount Dora, parts of Howey-in-the-Hills, Umatilla, and Astor.

“A lot of people do not know the free clinic is available to them, or they don’t believe that it is a free clinic,” Director Melissa Simmes says.

“We are finding a lot of patients, unfortunately, at a time when they need medical or preventative care. They don’t have insurance because they do not qualify or afford plans available through the Affordable Care Act, are not offered plans through their employer, or they may not be working, or eligible for Medicaid,” she says.

About 200 patients visit the Eustis clinic each month, Melissa says. It can be reach by calling 352.589.2501.

Community support
The clinics within the North Lake County Hospital District (Astatula, Eustis, Fruitland Park, Howey-in-the-Hills, Lady Lake, Leesburg, Mount Dora, Tavares, and Umatilla) receive financial support from a hospital tax (about $120 annually from residents’ property taxes). A continuation of the assessment was approved for another 10 years by voters in the November 2016 general election.

Free clinics
• Community Medical Care Center, 1210 W. Main St., Leesburg. 352.787.8489
• Florida Hospital Waterman Community Primary Care Center, 2300 Kurt St., Eustis. 352.589.2501
• St. Luke Free Medical and Dental Clinic, 727 Grove St., Eustis. 352.602.4620

Clinics with sliding fees
• Community Health Center Leesburg, 225 N. 1st St., Leesburg. 352.314.7400
• Community Health Center Tavares, 212 E. Main St., Tavares. 352.314.7400
• Community Center South Lake, 1296 Broad St., Groveland. 352.314.7400
• WIN Clinic of LifeStream, 215 N. 3rd St., Leesburg. 352.315.7946

About the author

Theresa Campbell

Originally from Anderson, Ind., Theresa worked for The Herald-Bulletin for many years. After experiencing a winter with 53 inches of snow, her late husband asked her to get a job in Florida, and they headed south. Well known in the area, Theresa worked with The Daily Sun and The Daily Commercial prior to joining Akers.
“I finally have my dream job. I’ve wanted to work for a magazine since I was a teenager, and I’m very excited to be here,” Theresa says. “There is such positive energy at Akers that it’s infectious.”
Theresa has three grown daughters—Julia lives in San Francisco, Emily is in Austin, Tex., and Maria is at the University of Central Florida.

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