April 9, 2017. News Chief.

HAINES CITY — After more than a year of work that involved a coalition of churches, a committee of community leaders and an application for a federal grant, a health clinic opens Monday to serve the large uninsured population in northeastern Polk County.

Central Florida Health Care’s Haines City clinic will start seeing clients at 7:30 Monday morning in a building it purchased at 701 Ingraham Ave.

Initially, Dr. J. Michael Ham-Ying, chief clinical officer for Central Florida Health Care, and Dr. Beatrice Aime Celian will alternate staffing the clinic. Ruby Bernard is the health care administrator.

Already, 35 clients have set up appointments and banners are going up to welcome walk-ins, said Ann Claussen, chief executive officer of Central Florida Health Care.

The effort to create the clinic began during a March 2016 meeting of the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment, a coalition of 20 churches representing. The council secured a pledge from Haines City’s then-City Manager Jonathan Evans to head a committee exploring establishment of a health clinic to serve the uninsured in the Haines City area.

Evans went on to another job but not before the committee of community leaders formed and enlisted Claussen as chair.

Her organization focuses on providing primary health care services to the medically under-served, including the elderly, disabled, homeless, migrant workers and residents of public housing. While it provides care to those who have no insurance, it also accepts insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and the Polk Health Plan. Staff health care navigators help clients sign up for programs that provide funds for health services.

Early on, the committee determined that transportation is an issue for low-income clientele so it was important to find a convenient location. The clinic’s downtown location near City Hall and the Haines City Public Library meets that criteria.

A U.S. Census Bureau report from 2015 shows that 33.5 percent of Haines City residents under age 65 were uninsured and 26.9 percent of Haines City residents live in poverty, according to a news release from Central Florida Health Care.

This is the 13th clinic the federally qualified, nonprofit Central Florida Health Care operates in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.

“We are going to have to start small and grow,” Claussen said of the new clinic.

At 11,000 square feet, the Haines City building is similar in size to Central Florida Health Care’s larger clinics in Lakeland, Winter Haven and Lake Wales, Claussen said.

However, opening a full-service clinic costs in the $1.8 million to $2 million range and the Haines City clinic is opening with a $693,000 infusion from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services New Access Point Grant.

The grant was awarded in December and required services start within 120 days, Claussen said.

Initially, the clinic will see only adult patients and provided limited services. But the Central Florida Health Care board and staff are working on obtaining more grants, donations and funding so that within a year it will be able to add pediatrics, ob-gyn, full lab, X-ray and behavioral health services.

“Behavioral health is a very important component,” Claussen said. “We will be looking to partner with Peace River Center or Tri-County Human Services, as we have at other locations, to provide that.”

It may take two years before the Haines City clinic will be able to offer dental services, Claussen said.

“It costs $50,000 for one dental chair and we need at least five to operate a clinic,” Claussen said. “A panoramic X-ray costs $75,000. We have to take into account that most people we see have no dental insurance and little means to pay. That is why it is so important that we partner with Polk County and the funds it provides through the half-cent sales tax for indigent health care to help pay for dental services. That is integral for us to be able to provide dental care.”

Until a dental clinic can be set up in Haines City, transportation help will be available for clients to go the organization’s dental clinics in Winter Haven or Lake Wales, Claussen said.

And, until the onsite pharmacy opens in 2018, prescriptions will be available through a delivery service from other Central Florida Health Care locations.

For more information about Central Florida Health Care and its clinics, call 866-234-8534.

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