Pinellas officials look to expand county health centers

10/29/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Pinellas County Commission, healthcare, homeless, poverty


Gwendolyn Warren, head of Pinellas County's department of health and community services, wants to open community health centers in low income neighborhoods

photo by Janelle Irwin

The Pinellas County department of health and community services is recommending the county make some changes to healthcare programs to make preventative care more accessible in high poverty areas.

During a county commission workshop Tuesday agency head Gwendolyn Warren laid out plans that could use shuttered public schools in impoverished neighborhoods to provide comprehensive health services including dental, smoking cessation and mental health.

"It's to our advantage to have a medical clinic that is in walking distance of most of these neighborhoods so the folk don't have to rely on transportation. Secondly there is a disconnect. Whether historical, cultural, racial, I'm not sure, the poor communities have with major institutions so there's a reluctance and difficulty of some of our clients traversing some of the major medical facilities."

The proposal is part of a poverty report that shows Pinellas as having the state’s highest homeless population at more than 4,000 individuals. But a much broader group of people at or below poverty level struggle to access basic health services. Warren says even though the agency is looking to do better, the current model is working. She adds, that’s because the average number of trips to the ER for Medicaid recipients in Pinellas County is 1.3 visits per year, while the state average is more than two.

"They are assigned a primary care physician. They also receive preventative care; smoke cessation, weight management, diabetic counseling. They also are available for specialty care so if a major issue is discovered we're able to send them to a specialist."

Recommendations from Warren’s agency also include a reorganization of departments that handle social services to put them all under one umbrella. Some improvements would include more proactive code enforcement in neighborhoods considered at-risk and the development of a countywide behavioral health facility. Plans for one public health center called the Bayside Health Campus are already underway. Commissioners will workshop the county facility on December 3.

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