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New clinic to help the uninsured

Posted on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

By Fallan Patterson
For the News-Gazette
Osceola County’s uninsured and underinsured soon will have a new clinic to visit due to a federal grant and a partnership between the Community Hope Center in Kissimmee and Orlando’s Healthcare Center for
the Homeless.
The Hope Center, located on U.S. Highway 192, will close its doors for two weeks beginning Sunday while remodeling construction is completed. The organization, which caters to the homeless and needy population in Kissimmee and St. Cloud, will reopen Jan. 6.
“Historically, the need is slow after Christmas,” said Mary Downey, executive director of the Hope Center. “As per the grant, the clinic has to be done in 100 days.”
The grant allows Healthcare for the Homeless to open its first satellite clinic in Osceola County, a goal the organization has been working toward, according to Bakari Burns, CEO of the organization.
“Being located in downtown Orlando, we always had a desire to increase our footprint in Osceola County, a fixed location rather than our mobile van,” he said. “I was familiar with the services the Hope Center is providing and we chose them for the location of our facility because of the services they provide to the local homeless
The clinic will take over half the building the Hope Center occupies off 4 Winds Blvd., which was formerly a Mexican restaurant.
“We are getting a complete remodel. It’s going to be amazing,” Downey said. “There’s a little bit of sacrifice that we have to close and do minimal services for a couple months but it’s worth it in the long run.”
The full-service, sliding payment scale, primary care clinic is expected to open March 1 complete with a full-time physician and nurse practitioner.
“We see a lot of diabetes, hypertension, depression, mental health issues,” Burns said. “When you’re working with this population, you also see individuals with later stages of cancer because they haven’t had any preventative care.”
The clinic will focus on preventive healthcare and behavioral healthcare, such as mental health and substance abuse, with immediate access to a licensed social worker for those who the physician determines are in need of such services.
According to Burns, 75 percent of all patients who receive a referral for a mental health specialist fail to show up to the appointment. The organization hopes to eliminate that gap for those patients needing that type of healthcare.
“We want to be a one-stop shop,” Burns said.
The clinic eventually plans to add other services such as a laboratory and telemedicine after hours.
“Basically, what we’re trying to eliminate is people going to the ER for basic needs such as having the flu or having high blood sugar due to diabetes,” Downey said.
Additionally, by adding the clinic to the Hope Center, Downey expects to close the gap for such services in an area that she called a “desert” for services needed by the homeless population.
“That part of 192 is considered a food desert because there are no grocery stores. It’s a housing desert because there are no houses and I consider it a healthcare desert because there are no free clinics or doctor’s offices,” she said.
Downey is looking for support from the community to help the organization purchase the building it’s located in due to the new clinic and the services they provide.
“Because of what we have going on, we really feel we need to own our building,” she said. “It’s the end of the year and people are looking for a good place to donate.”
The building costs $400,000, of which the organization already has raised about a quarter of that.
“This is an opportunity for people to get in on the ground floor to change the face of homelessness in our community,” Downey said. “What we offer at the Hope Center is sustainable healing. It’s not a magic wand. It takes work. But we want to work alongside the community.”
For more information, call 321-677-0246.
Making the numbers
Families living in their cars, those living in the motels and hotels along U.S. Highway 192 and families having trouble paying their rent due to unemployment or underemployment are the types of clients the Hope Center aims to help.
In the past six months, more than 650 people in Osceola County have been hired at new jobs and/or moved into more stable housing because of the Hope Center’s staff.
“We like to see folks three or four times before we let them go,” Downey said. “We’ve really seen some great things happen.”
ºThe Community Hope Center of Osceola County, an outreach ministry of The Community Presbyterian Church aimed at “Ending Homelessness, Restoring Hope,” recently released their six month recap of services provided to individuals in Osceola County.
These numbers represent the 202 family units that were served since the organization opened in April.
Of those 202 units, 11 were couples, 53 were individuals and 137 were families with one or more children (totally 624 persons). Of those family units, 100 were living in the hotels and motels along 192, 18 were in their car or other places unfit for habitation, 68 were renters and four owned their own home.
The Community Hope Center also provides employment assistance. Of the family units served, 60 were employed in some way, 112 were actively searching and the rest were on disability or Social Security benefits.
Seventy-five clients were referred to the center’s on-site employment specialist to assist with resume writing, interview skills and job readiness assessment. Clients also were referred to both Workforce Central Florida and Community Vision’s Job Readiness Boot camp.
“We try to stay away from the seasonal jobs,” Downey said. “We want them to get any type of job but we want to keep working with them.”
Of the clients served, 118 clients were on food stamps, and 72 were encouraged to apply.
Those clients not receiving food stamps at the time of their initial intake were set up at an Access laptop to apply or re-certify for benefits.  They may visit the center on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month and meet with a Department of Children and Family representative that can assist with applications, re-certifications and conduct interviews. Each family also leaves with a food bag from both the Community Hope Center and The Salvation Army.
There are more than 12 partner agencies on-site providing unique case management as well, including the Osceola County Council on Aging, Helping Others Make the Effort, Covenant House, Osceola County Human Services, Second Harvest, and Help Now.
“We are so honored to continue to make a difference in the lives of families living in homelessness in our community,” said Downey.
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