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New health center to continue healing ways

Long in coming, construction has begun on a $1.7-million building that will house the new Kelton Health Center.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Drew Drabik, Kelton Health Center administrator, right, and Carlos Mercado, administrative assistant, show off their new clinic.

By JENNIFER L. STEVENSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 8, 2002


When Christopher coughs and cries, Lorraine Kowalchuk goes for help. She bundles up her baby and heads for the doctor's office.

Fortunately, medical attention is just five minutes away -- and always free -- at the Kelton Health Center.

"I'm a first-time mom," Kowalchuk said one recent afternoon, as she waited with Christopher, 5 months. "I get scared very easily. I don't want anything to happen."

Kowalchuk, like hundreds of other parents in Port Tampa and Interbay, relies on the medical services from the public health center on Montgomery Avenue.

Administrators hope to help even more families. After more than two decades in a semi-permanent building, construction is under way on a $1.7-million building that will house the new center.

Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Hillsborough County Health Department, said that replacing the modified trailers at Kelton was a top priority. The waiting room was cramped and more exam rooms were needed. The new center should open in August.

"We jokingly suggest that the modular was being held together by the termites," Holt said. "It's sinking. It's tilting. It had to be shored up. It was our most urgent need."

State money will pay for the building, Holt said. The center is run by Florida Department of Health.

Last week, the staff got its first peek at the new facility and scoped out the spacious floor plan.

"It's beautiful," said Maria Perez, a medical unit specialist.

"We've been waiting for this for years."

The current center is actually three modular units linked by walkways. The oldest dates to the early 1980s when the center was opened. The clinic was named for F.M. "Doc" Kelton, a beloved Port Tampa pharmacist. He died in 1975 after working in the area for 60 years.

Drew Drabik, Kelton's administrator, said doctors and nurses see more than 8,000 patients and provide 21,000 medical services a year. Services range from complete examinations to immunizations. The center primarily provides pediatric and maternal care.

The new building, at 10,000 square feet, is twice the size of the current center and will provide much-needed space. Plans include six exam rooms instead of the current four. Also included are rooms for taking vital signs and triage. The waiting room will be expanded.

"It's a tight-squeeze right now," Drabik said last week, as he stood in the hallway. The scales were just steps away from the copier.

In a unique partnership with the Hillsborough County School System, the new building is being constructed on the grounds of Lanier Elementary School, which is located next to Kelton. The school's nurse will have an office in the new center.

Even though it may be a bit cramped, Kowalchuk said she is grateful for Kelton, where she started receiving medical care when she became pregnant. Once Christopher was born, she took him to the center for checkups. At 31/2 months, he was diagnosed with a chronic lung infection.

Since then, she has visited Kelton often.

"There's always someone here to help me," said Kowalchuk, who receives Medicare.

Suddenly, Christopher gurgled and laughed.

"He's getting better now."

- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at 226-3405 or at stevenson@sptimes.com.

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