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Delivering good health

Now, as word gets out, the newly opened Northeast Tampa Community Health Center is bracing for the time when patients looking for low-cost health care pack the place.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000

UNIVERSITY NORTH -- The records room at the Northeast Tampa Community Health Center shows an operation yearning to grow.

While patient records line the walls at most doctors' offices, only a few color-coded, alphabetized folders occupy the many shelves at the center.

But it won't be long, clinic administrators say, before patients pack the place and files fill the room. Soon, the word will be out. The clinic, which opened last month at 1217 E 131st Ave. between Nebraska Avenue and 15th Street, gives thousands in need of low-cost health care a place to go.

The fresh paint and new equipment are a welcome sight in this low-income area west of the University of South Florida, often dubbed "Suitcase City."

Tampa Community Health Center, a not-for-profit organization, runs the center and five others throughout the city. President Charles R. Bottoms said local patients who traveled to other clinics requested one closer to them. Since the College Hill and Ponce de Leon public housing complexes began closing several years ago, many residents relocated north.

Their health clinics did not move with them.

"So we had to take the health care to them," Bottoms said.

The center opened in early May, and now sees 15 to 20 patients a day. It's expected to eventually treat 100 to 150, once the word spreads. Officials and patients alike are also excited about the availability of dental care, which will begin in August.

"This is going to be a real plus for the community up here," Bottoms said. "Up here there's a lot of stuff you're not able to get."

Wesley Chapel resident Kimalee Harris and her two children have already discovered the center. Harris brought sons Justen Akins, 11/2, and Brandon Akins, 31/2, in for physicals Thursday. The family recently moved here from Kansas City, Kan. Medicaid covers their expenses, and she chose the clinic because of its ability to serve her and the children.

"A lot would just take my children and then I'd have to go someplace else," she said.

Dr. Catherine Woodhouse hesitates to use the word "clinic" in describing the new center, which she works most mornings before spending her afternoons at a center near Ybor City.

"There's always a stigma of going to the clinic, where there's stuff on the floor and bug juice on the wall," she said.

It's safe to say the North Tampa center is nothing like that. The building, purchased in February for $317,000, used to be a dialysis center. It was renovated and still smells of fresh paint. All the medical equipment, from the four dentist's chairs to the sturdy blue exam tables, are brand new.

Patients appreciate the atmosphere.

"This place is great, clean, nice," said Leona Doub, 30. "It seems more professional (than a clinic)."

Doub lives about a mile north of the center, and learned about it from a man who set her children up with a Healthy Kids insurance plan. Doub is relieved she won't have to take them to the emergency room anymore.

"My son this week, playing football, cut his foot and got stitches. I'm going to bring him here for the followup." The clinic takes a variety of health plans, including most HMOs, the Hillsborough County Health Plan and Medicaid.

It also accepts private insurance, but that accounts for about one-seventh of one percent of the Tampa Community Health Center's total business, Bottoms said.

For those with no insurance, the center offers sliding-scale rates. For example, patients can receive a physical for as little as $15. The expected payment increases in line with a family's income level, using a scale set by the federal government. But no patient is turned away for inability to pay.

"The center also pairs patients with counselors who can investigate the availability of insurance plans.

"They tell you everything," Doub said. "It helps a lot."

* * *

-- Joe Humphrey can be reached at 226-3403 or

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