The St. Petersburg Free Clinic’s health center has a new home and it’s twice as big. The clinic outgrew its space in downtown St. Petersburg and was experiencing a backlog of appointments and longer wait times. The new health center has more exam rooms, more nursing stations and allows the clinic -- that served about 5,000 people last year -- to bring in a dermatologist, general surgeon and neurologist.
“That takes away draining the system at the local hospitals where if it’s something relatively small where it can be handled in an outpatient setting such as this, it’s a tremendous boost to the community,” said Susan Easter, the clinic's director.
Established in 1970, the clinic provides free health care to people who can't afford to buy health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.
It receives no federal funds and relies on doctors and nurses who volunteer their time.
A $2 million donation from retired businessman David Baldwin allowed the clinic to purchase the new building at 5501 Fourth St. N and renovate it.
The donation also allowed the clinic to fund its dental program, which has room to grow.
The new building has two unfinished wings that the clinic has plans to renovate.
One of the wings will house the dental clinic, Easter said.
“We’re looking for funding to get three dental chairs and possibly get the assistance of a part-time dentist who can ensure that this program will keep going,” she said.
On the other side, the clinic already has funding to build a health education suite, where it will host programs for patients with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other ailments. There will be a teaching kitchen where people can learn about nutrition and how to cook and eat healthy.
The clinic serves more than 300 patients with diabetes.
“A big component of our program is also preventative health,” Easter said.
The new health center is 7,000 square feet and has enough room for physical therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors.
“They are expanding services,” Easter said. “Now that we have more space here, we’re able to start adding on more appointments.”
The health center receives support from St. Anthony’s Hospital for lab work and basic X-rays. The clinic’s staff works with other health care providers to get patients services that aren’t provided by the clinic. One staff member works exclusively on finding free and discounted prescription drugs for patients.
“That is a full time job,” Easter said.