Clearwater Free Clinic cares for North Pinellas community [Video]

Doctors, students and clerical staff from across the Tampa Bay area volunteer to run the nonprofit clinic.

Nestled in on a shady corner near the bay, just north of downtown, the Clearwater Free Clinic finds a way to piece together the health care puzzle for those in the community in dire need.

“We try to find the best fit, we do not compete, we do not duplicate services,” said Jan Humphreys, a nurse practitioner who leads care at the clinic. Humphreys, a small clinical staff and a host of volunteers, including USF College of Nursing students, manage to maintain and orchestrate health care for many patients in North Pinellas County suffering from chronic diseases.

Doctors and nurses, including faculty from USF Health, health care professionals, and students from all across the Tampa Bay area lend a hand at the clinic, helping people who fall into the range of not qualifying for Medicare but not being able to afford health care coverage.

Jan Humphreys is an ARNP who oversees the clinic.

Humphreys explains that by the time most patients find the clinic, they may be well into a serious disease, such as diabetes or cancer. “They’ve got multiple issues that are out of control, and we just work with them to address each issue one step at a time,” Humphreys said . “We try to right the ship and get them on an even path.”

The 38-year old clinic has been a pillar in the neighborhood, caring for community members who work, but have to make difficult decisions for their budget, often times neglecting their health issues.

“They have rent to pay, food to buy, gas, insurance that they have to have for their car, and health care is one of the last things that they can afford,” Jeannie Shapiro said. Shapiro has been executive director at the clinic for over 15 years and is in charge of finding creative ways to bridge the gap of providing health care at no cost.

“We try to capture our population. We reach out to our neighborhood, our citizens in North Pinellas County,” Humphreys said. “Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital, out of the emergency room, those expensive care locations. We try to keep them stable and as optimally functional as possible, so they can continue to work.”

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Students from USF Health College of Nursing volunteer at the clinic. Photo by Meg Lokey

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A staff and volunteers with a range of qualifications run the clinic Monday through Thursday.

The Clearwater Free Clinic operates solely on donations and the generosity of specialists and surgeons from across the Tampa Bay region. USF Health surgeon David Shapiro, MD, has been performing surgeries at the clinic since 1978 and continues to give back after his retirement as clinical professor of surgery at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

“I have always believed that when I was first given the privilege to sign my name with MD that I had an obligation to care for patients who needed my services regardless of any personal financial considerations,” Dr. Shapiro said.

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David Shapiro, MD, second from left, USF Health surgeon and faculty member pictured at an annual golf tournament fundraiser for the clinic, volunteers his surgical skills to the clinic. Photo by Meg Lokey

The Clearwater Free Clinic focuses on education as one of the most important aspects of what they can provide to patients, locating resources to encourage participation and awareness about the often times chronic diseases.

“Knowledge is power, so I feel if we can introduce to them what they have, their medical problem, in the most simplistic terms, then they are able to contribute and be part of (taking care of) it,” explained Jeannie Shapiro.

Along with educating patients about treating their illness, the clinic works to educate the community about the nature of the services they provide and issues encountered when trying to accomplish all that they do with limited funds and space.

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The clinic has been operating in North Pinellas County since 1977.

“We do run into barriers that we work hard to get around,” Humphreys said.  The clinic is looking to expand their connection with USF Health’s academic medical center to explore tough to diagnose cases as well as provide educational opportunities for medical residents.

“We would love to build on that connection, and have USF Health’s internal medicine residents here; hopefully some of them live in Pinellas County and would like to visit us,” Humphreys said. “We would like to have the resources at USF to turn to when a patient is so complex or when we have patients who we can’t figure out what’s wrong, even after we’ve done a pretty good work-up.”

Strengthening connections across the bridge and building on a dedicated commitment to community medicine will be an ongoing project impacting the future of the clinic.

“For me it is a phenomenal job here,” Humphreys said. “With the help of all these volunteers and specialists, it’s a low-budget operation — but we get the job done.”

Video, photos and article by Katy Hennig, USF Health Communications and Marketing