BRANDON — Billed as a “health care safety net for those vulnerable individuals who fall through the cracks of our fragmented health care system,” the Brandon Outreach Clinic has extended its reach and offerings.
The clinic has added stopgap aid for “bridge” patients, whose incomes fall under 100 percent of the poverty level and who need immediate health care while they are awaiting approval for Hillsborough County services, said Suzy Watts, the clinic’s medical coordinator.
Moreover, she added, the clinic now is serving patients from throughout the county, and not just in Eastern Hillsborough County.
“There’s a need and we have capacity,” Watts said. “Some of our (former) patients are now covered by the (national) Affordable Care Act and at the same time we’ve had additional medical providers volunteering their services.”
Also new at the clinic is a Lending Closet, stocked with durable medical equipment, such as crutches, canes, braces, commode chairs and walkers.
“People give these items to us and we give them to the people in our community” who need them but can’t afford them, Watts said. “What we can’t use we give to Advocates for World Health, a not-for-profit corporation that recovers surplus medical products and distributes them to relief agencies in the United States and developing countries.”
In May, Brandon Outreach Clinic staff, supporters and volunteers attended a Kentucky Derby fundraiser at Center Place that marked the clinic’s 25 years of service. The clinic is at 517 N. Parsons Ave., next door to the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO). Clinic services include diagnostic screenings, lab tests and medications necessary to treat chronic conditions and diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
The clinic serves people who have income but whose paychecks are not enough to cover their medical expenses.
“We keep our patients healthy so they can go to work to keep their jobs to support their families and keep their homes,” said Deborah “Debbie” Meegan, the clinic’s executive director.
Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals donate their time and services to the clinic.
“I volunteer because I know pain is not something to ignore,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Wari L. Wabara, who added that he was born in Africa and educated in England. “I volunteer because I came here with nothing. When I landed at (New York’s) JFK airport in 1970, I had $200 in my pocket.”
Also among the volunteers is nurse Angie Smith, who said she works at the clinic to pay it forward. “I’m retired from nursing and I just want to give back to the community (and work) without the pressure,” she said. “I’m surprised there’s not a constant line out the door. The clinic is just a great contribution to Brandon.”
To receive clinic services, a person must fall between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, depending on household size, Meegan said.
Newly served “bridge” patients fall below 100 percent of the poverty level, which monthly for an individual is $957.50 and, for a family of four, $1,962.50.
“With the need out there, Hills- borough County can take up to a month or two to process aid requests from these people and these people have diabetes and heart conditions,” Watts said. “They don’t have months to wait. If they wait they can end up in the emergency room or worse.”
Watts added that a person will have to show a pressing medical need that requires immediate attention to be designated a bridge patient. Also, that they need a little more time to be processed and deemed eligible for Hillsborough County care or federal Medicare health insurance.
Also in the works for the clinic is a new fundraiser to add to the group’s lineup of annual charity awareness events.
To continue is the Pink Your Pony Trail Ride fundraiser, scheduled for Oct. 11, and organized by horse owner and breast cancer survivor Dawn Galia, executive director of the Center Place Fine Arts & Civic Association. A week later is Paint the Plaza at Plaza Bella in Valrico. The Kentucky Derby viewing party in May will be moved from Center Place to The Regent in Riverview, a much larger venue.
New to the clinic’s outreach lineup will be the Kentucky Derby Tea on Feb. 28, featuring a Kentucky Derby Fashion Show.
For information about the Brandon Outreach Clinic, visit online at www.brandonoutreach clinic.com. Call (813) 654-1388.