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Bayside Health Clinic — the future of Pinellas homeless health care

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The sky was gray, the parking lot puddled, but ground was broken all the same at Bayside Health Clinic’s $2 million Clearwater facility. Pinellas County commissioners, other elected area officials, and local health professionals were on hand Tuesday morning for the ceremony.

One of the more prevalent themes throughout the event was preventive health care.

“For some, preventive health care is a luxury,” noted Pinellas County Commission Chairman John Morroni, in his opening speech. “They simply don’t have the resources.”

Bayside Clinic will combat the problem by offering their homeless and uninsured patients medical, dental, and behavioral health services — and all under one, convenient roof.

The facility, coming in at over 3,000 square feet, will be one story, freestanding and feature a dental office, medical exam rooms, and office space for one-on-one counseling. Its main purpose is to expand the already-existing homeless and uninsured health services provided by Pinellas County.

Until the doors are opened, Bayside health services will continue to be offered through their temporary offices and future next-door-neighbor, Pinellas Safe Harbor, an emergency homeless shelter and jail diversion program center capable of housing 470 individuals. They’ll also continue through the county’s Medical Mobile Unit program.

The MMU, as it’s known, has been serving Pinellas County for the past 23 years, according to Human Services Director Lourdes Benedict. In 2014, they provided medical services for over 1,700 homeless individuals, a number expected to rise substantially in 2015.

Valerie Leonard, the current MMU Advisory Council chairperson, knows first-hand how big of a support system the MMU can be. When hard times struck, she was admittedly unprepared.

“I owned my own home in Key West, I had my own business,” said Leonard, referring to what she’d lost. “I never planned to be in this position.”

During her time up at the podium, she reminded people how important respect can be when reaching out to those in need.

“That’s very important,” said Leonard. “Because when you’re homeless, you’re down and you’re out, it’s embarrassing to face people and say, ‘I have a problem.'”

The clinic’s estimated cost of direct services  — $532,720 — was written into Pinellas County’s fiscal year 2016 budget. Utilities, maintenance, alarm monitoring, insurance and other facility expenses — which were also written into the budget — came in at $80,950.

Federal grant money, awarded to the county by the Health Resources and Services Administration back in late 2014, will take care of the $2 million construction costs.

Creative Contractors of Clearwater will provide the design and build services for the new building.

The HRSA has set an April 30, 2016, construction deadline for the project.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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