Hope Medical Clinic Fills the Healthcare Gap

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By Michelle Ruschman

There’s no doubt that most people would see our area as abundant, and it is. We live where other people work all year to get to and snowbirds spend entire seasons with us. We have a thriving military community as well as many successful small business owners and developers. At a glance, Okaloosa and Walton counties are doing well.

There are locals, however, who are struggling with necessities such as basic healthcare, from the homeless to entrepreneurs. This is the gap that Tim Roberts, the Founder and Executive Director of the Hope Medical Centers in Destin and Freeport, has been trying to fill since the Destin clinic opened in 2009. Both clinics are designated free and charitable clinics, in Destin and Freeport. “I moved here from Oregon and was introduced to the need that people who were working jobs ‘behind the scenes’ – restaurant workers, cleaning staff, etc. – weren’t able to afford healthcare, including the insurance that was offered by their jobs. It was just too expensive, especially now as food and housing costs are increasing.

People shouldn’t have to choose healthcare OR basic needs. As I was considering what I could do to help, Brad Bynum, who was the minister at the Destin Church of Christ at the time, felt like there was a possibility that they had space that could be used, and they had connections to medical personnel. Once I understood the needs of the community, which are similar to much of our nation, just exacerbated. The two counties we serve, Okaloosa and Walton, are classified as medically underserved areas. What makes our area work are the individuals who do foundational work. They’re working in construction, they’re working on the docks, they’re cleaning, they’re cooking, they’re doing all these things That make our tourist economy work, and a lot of those jobs do not provide health benefits. And so that’s where the Hope Medical Centers in Destin and Freeport can offer some relief to the residents of Okaloosa and Walton counties. When we stay healthy as a community, everyone benefits.”

The Destin clinic is based in the Destin Church of Christ while Destiny Worship Center hosts the Freeport clinic. The generosity of these church communities in donating space and resources has provided the opportunity for Hope Medical Center to use their donations and grants directly toward patient care, offering massive relief from rent and utilities, as the number of patients continues to grow.

Hope Medical StaffThe staff at both clinics are made up of Nurse Practitioners, Case Managers, Medical Assistants, Front Office Managers, Social Workers and Counselors. Together, with a team of medical volunteers and students, HMC can provide a more holistic model of healthcare. Patients are not only given a physical assessment through consultations, exams, and lab work but there is also an opportunity to assess the mental health of the patient as well. “We all want to be known and for many of our patients, Hope isn’t just where they get their physical needs met, it’s a place to be supported in many other areas too. We understand that for a person to build emotional resilience and move toward healing, we not only need to take care of the body, but we also need to look at how they’re responding to what’s going on in their lives. Not everyone wants or needs that kind of support but we do want to make that available.”

Hope Medical Tim RobertsHope Medical Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit primary care facility that serves those who don’t have any type of medical insurance, and also meets the salary cap which is based on how many adults and children make up the household. The clinics are primarily funded by private donations, support from local churches and grants. There is no cost to the patient when they are seen at either clinic but donations are gratefully accepted to help with the longevity of their healthcare, no matter how modest. If the patient has to be directed toward specialty care, in most cases, there are available community partners that offer discounted rates, and every effort is made to build a team for the patients who are part of the practice. This includes partnering with other agencies and hospitals, offering discounts on medication, and talking with a social worker to see what other resources are available.

Many of the patients who come to Hope Medical Center are referred by local hospitals or word-of-mouth and Tim appreciates that the growth has been steady throughout the years, with the Freeport clinic opening in 2016. “If we’re going to give free healthcare, why wouldn’t we do it the best we can and make it what we would want for ourselves and our families? Our staff and volunteers work together to make our care the highest level it can be. Cost shouldn’t be the difference between critically declining health and taking care of treatable diseases, like hypertension and diabetes.”

So, how can you partner with Hope Medical Center to ensure that our local community continues to stay as healthy as possible? There are several ways. “We’re always needing more volunteers, especially medically trained volunteers, especially if you are a specialist. The great thing about volunteering with us is we’re grateful for any time you can provide and can schedule patients accordingly. No matter how much time you can offer, it will make an impact.

The other thing we need is advocates in our community. We need people who see the value in what we do and want to support us in whatever capacity their resources or connections can offer. Partnerships in health services and funding are what help our everyday operations. Even a donation of $125 helps us to see one patient for an entire year.”

If you would like to learn more or would like to support these efforts, go to hopemedclinic.org, or send a check made payable to Hope Medical Center to
Hope Medical Center
150 Beach Dr.
Destin, FL 32541

Interested in volunteering or want to become a new patient? Email Cora Sternberg the LPN Nurse Operations Director at cora@hopemedclinic.org, or call 850-270-7130. You’ll need to provide your first and last name, an email and a phone number.