A volunteer-based safety net for those medically under- or uninsured, The Crescent Community Clinic’s life-saving work is free to the medically uninsured or with low income.
Since 2008, without fanfare or fuss, the Crescent Community Clinic and its volunteer team of physicians, healthcare, and administrative professionals led by Dr. Husam abuZarad, has been offering under – or uninsured patients in Hernando County access to healthcare at little to no cost. It is the only free healthcare clinic in the county for those with chronic health conditions and mental health diagnoses.
On June 11, 2022, the clinic will commemorate 13 years of service with an anniversary celebration to honor volunteers, patients and guests. The event will be held from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Heather Club House on St. Andrews Blvd., in Weeki Wachee. The public is welcome. “I think our clinic is a valuable asset to Hernando County,” said the clinic’s Executive Director Christina Reyes. “All of our team here “try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud,” she said, quoting American poet Maya Angelou.
There are almost 3 million people who are uninsured, according to The National Health Interview Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors the health of the nation. Florida has consistently been rated as having one of the highest rates of uninsured in the country and many Floridians are forced to choose between paying their bills or having health coverage.
And for many, having a job does not guarantee access to health insurance or care – and government assistance programmes are negligible. “Without the clinic, a lot of the people that we see would have no other alternative but to turn to public assistance and leave their jobs so they can be ‘poor’ enough to receive free care,” said Reyes. Unfortunately, too many risk their lives by going without health insurance and that has led to ballooning costs for hospitals where uninsured people show up at the emergency room for care. “By helping our patients get access to high quality healthcare, we are actually reducing usage of hospital emergency rooms for non-emergent care and saving hospitals millions of dollars,” says Reyes.
Being medically under – or uninsured can be attributed to many factors: rising health care costs, the economy, reductions in employer-based insurance and public program cutbacks.
As a result, anxiety issues have also increased. Those without insurance either borrow large amounts of money or tap into their retirement funds to get medical care. Even then, there is no guarantee they can get the required treatments carried out.
Dr. Husam Abuzarad, an Internal Medicine Specialist in Brooksville and one of the founders of the clinic said, “It fills my heart with joy, gratitude and satisfaction to work in the Crescent Community Clinic and see those patients that without the clinic would not receive health care. Our clinic does not receive government funding of any kind and relies entirely on donations from patients, businesses, social and service organizations, foundations and individuals. We never turn anyone away due to their inability to donate.”
Barbara Sweinberg, member of the clinic’s board of directors added, “Because access to healthcare is limited to either insured individuals or those with large amounts of cash available for medical treatment, is it any wonder that so many choose to postpone seeking medical treatment.” “What if you had no insurance and desperately needed medical attention? Crescent Community Clinic is that safety net for you,” she said.
Sweinberg retired as executive director in March 2021 and was appointed to the Board of Directors shortly thereafter. “Dr. Zarad is a joy to the clinic,” said Sweinberg. “He is the motivation behind it all. He and Christina and all our volunteers work tirelessly to develop the many programs that assist our patients.”
One such program includes pharmaceutical prescription assistance. Patients who cannot afford their medication can be enrolled to receive a year’s supply of free medication. Others who may have diabetes can be prescribed with a regular supply of insulin. Current prices of insulin are very costly and can reach $10,000 a year. Other patients may have breathing problems or asthma and are provided with inhalers; heart patients receive hypertension medication and mental health patients have access to therapists and receive appropriate medication for their bi-polar, depression, anxiety or schizophrenia diagnoses.
The clinic also provides patients diagnosed with asthma, cancer, diabetes, COPD, epilepsy, heart disease, hypertension, pulmonary, urology and obesity access to our partner physicians at their private practices for health concerns.
Another relatively new program is the result of a partnership with the Hernando County Correctional Institution. This program has been designed to help newly released inmates. When inmates are released after serving their term, they receive only 3 days supply of medication. Now, inmates can be fast-tracked into the clinic’s prescription program so they don’t have to struggle. “One of our real success stories is encouraging patients who use tobacco products to attend a smoking cessation program. In addition, they get nicotine patches and other supplies to help them quit,” said Sweinberg. “They may complain a little in the beginning but most end up full of gratitude to have received the help they needed to stop smoking.”
“Smoking cessation sessions are just one way to help the uninsured stay healthy,” said Dr. M.P. Ravindran Nathan, a Brooksville cardiologist who has been donating his time to the clinic since it first opened. “It’s about educating and stabilising patients so they don’t have to rely on hospital emergency rooms for care,” he said. “We encourage patients to come to us when they first have the onset of any ailments so we can help recognise what is wrong before it gets worse and becomes an emergency room situation. This is our community, and our responsibility. It is our duty to protect those who are less fortunate. We can’t pretend they don’t exist and turn our backs on them.”
Dr. Nathan, who writes regularly on health issues for local newspapers, said he was proud of the many successful outcomes of patients who had attended the clinic. He stated, “Our success stories are entirely due to the quality care our volunteer physicians, nurses, other licensed health care professionals and general volunteers provided – for men, women and children who would otherwise go without the care they needed and deserved. The clinic is a true testament of goodwill and kindness for those who are less fortunate.”
As to future plans, Dr. Zarad remains focused on how the clinic can expand in the future. “Firstly, we want to re-open our dental facility as soon as possible,” he said. “We closed that part of the clinic partly due to the Covid outbreak and because three of our five dental practitioners retired. The good news is we have several dentists graduating soon who have indicated they are on board to volunteer with us. ”
Dr. Zarad then plans to explore some creative fundraising ideas to engage donors and maximize participation. He stated, “Our real goal will be to have our very own building where we can continue our present services and possibly get more provider physicians and practitioners.”
Also ahead for the clinic are plans to develop a process of educating patients on healthcare behaviors. This will include offering guidelines to patients on over-the-counter supplements, how to exercise to the best of their ability, healthy eating habits and how best to incorporate them into everyday life to achieve a healthy lifestyle. “We want our patients to be healthy for life,” Dr Zarad said.
Crescent Community Clinic relies on an all-volunteer staff of licensed providers, an AmeriCorps VISTA team of volunteers, several Urban Senior Jobs Program participants, Career Source participants, students from colleges, universities and high schools and general volunteers who do a variety of health care services and duties to ensure that the uninsured, indigent and underserved non-elderly residents of Hernando County have access to free health care.
The clinic also partners with Hernando Community Health Partnership Plan, NAMI, Bayfront Brooksville Hospital, St. Petersburg College, BayCare Health Center, Saint Leo University, American Health Institute, ATA Career Academy, Career Source, University of South Florida and Gulf Coast North Area Health Education Center.
In 2021, the clinic registered 7,000 patient visits. Since inception, more than 87,000 patient visits have been recorded. “We have been blessed with many, many devoted and caring volunteers over our 13 years,” said Christina Reyes. “But we still need a mix of volunteer provider positions, especially physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and more. All we ask is that you have a willing heart. Crescent Community Clinic is grateful to every new volunteer. We value your time and want you to have a satisfying volunteer experience.” Call 352-263-1218 for more information on how to join their team.
The Hernando Sun applauds the many physicians, volunteers and counselors who regularly donate their time to help bridge the gap in healthcare coverage and provide services to fit the medical needs of these uninsured Americans. We urge others in the community to also volunteer in some way. For more information, contact Christina Reyes at 352.263.1218.