Charlotte Herald Tribune, November 3, 2007: Charlotte free clinic set to open

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Low-income workers without health insurance will soon be able to receive free health care at a community clinic set to open in mid-December.

While the clinic will start by offering care in the evening hours only, it will expand its services as more physicians volunteer their time.

Already, 20 physicians have signed up, said Jeanne Wyman, who will become the clinic’s director. Wyman worked for 23 years at the county health department, much of that time as director of nursing.

She anticipates the clinic will be open four to five hours a day to start, with the ability to treat about 20 to 25 people each day. The eventual goal is to have it open 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

“All stupendous things have to start out small,” Wyman said.

The clinic, 21450 Gibralter Drive, Port Charlotte — near the St. Vincent DePaul Family Services Center — will offer basic primary care and treatment for sudden injuries and ailments that do not warrant a trip to the emergency room.

“The focus is for the working uninsured,” Wyman said. “They’re out there working every day, but they can’t afford to carry medical insurance, it’s so expensive.”

No money will be exchanged for health services, but patients will have to meet income requirements.

The clinic will serve people in households earning no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $27,380 a year for a two-person household.

During the first year an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 patients will likely receive treatment, growing to 20,000 to 25,000 as the program matures, said Dr. Mark Asperilla, a lead force behind the clinic.

The clinic will also work in conjunction with the neighboring St. Vincent DePaul Community Pharmacy, which is headed by Paul Ringenberger.

Ringenberger said the need for the clinic was glaringly evident at the pharmacy.

“Our numbers are just going through the roof,” Ringenberger said.

He said the spike in need was tied to the faltering real estate market and slowdown in construction. He frequently hears clients say they used to be roofers or they used to work drywall.

“No one is really taking care of and providing a safety net for those without insurance,” Ringenberger said. “There is a dramatic, incredible need out there.”

For small business owners who cannot afford to pay employee health insurance, the clinic will be a blessing.

Jerry Presseller, owner of the Presseller Delicatessen in Punta Gorda, said he planned to encourage his four employees to use the clinic if they need medical care.

“It’s definitely going to be a big help for the community, no question about it,” Presseller said.

The cost of Presseller’s own health insurance is $1,750 a month, a price that is wildly out of reach for many working people. “Don’t ever have a heart attack,” he said, indicating why his insurance costs are so exorbitant.

Physicians announced plans to open the new clinic in May and have since worked steadily to see its doors open.

After jumping though a few hurdles with impact fees, the clinic’s organizers are expecting a building permit any day now.

Once that permit is in hand, the facility should open within 30 days, Ringenberger and Asperilla said.

While the health clinic will operate out of a mobile home for the first year or so, it will eventually move into a permanent structure.

Already, a land donation and designs for an 8,000-square-foot building are in the works, Ringenberger said.

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