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Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Judeo Christian Health Clinic addresses rising need

Like other miracles I’ve witnessed, the Judeo Christian Health Clinic was not a flash-of-light thing. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t become the wide-ranging health facility that it is without years of sweat and labor.

On Thursday evening a crowd will gather again at Higgins Hall, including hundreds of those committed to making this a better community. And it is a better community in large part because the clinic has become such an integral part of it. Last year the volunteer doctors and nurses treated more than 39,000 patients and the lines keep getting longer.

The longer lines might not be a good thing but they reflect the reality of our lives.

If you think about it, there shouldn’t even be such a thing as the clinic. The coming of the Affordable Health Care Act should mean everyone has health insurance and access to good health care.

That, of course, is not the reality. In Florida, where Medicaid expansion has been pushed back, more people than ever find themselves unable to secure medical services.

Kelly Bell is executive director of the clinic, which is in its 42nd year. “Our patients are making choices you shouldn’t have to make. They are choosing whether to get medical services or eat. They are choosing whether to keep the lights on or have air conditioning in the summer. We are finding that many of them just cannot afford the insurance premiums or if they can the coverage is only for something catastrophic.

“Our clients don’t come in for colds or the flu. Many have serious, chronic conditions such as diabetes or a lump in their breast. They are frightened and have nowhere else to turn.’’

The clinic was the dream of the Rev. Jim Holmes, now retired, who heard the stories of his small congregation at St. John Presbyterian on North MacDill Avenue and vowed to do something about it. This was in 1972 and he says he had no idea the health care situation in America eventually would spiral out of control.

He started by passing the basket around to his congregation, asking for at least a 25-cent donation to get his dream off the ground.

Understand this is a modest church in a working-class neighborhood. But it began to happen.

The complex that now sprawls out behind the church includes a dental clinic and an eye clinic. There are volunteers and arrangements with local hospitals for surgical care.

Next door there is the McClain group home for women — another Jim Holmes dream.

Oh, and did you know the first Meals on Wheels program in the city that delivers hot meals to home-bound people started at St. John?

Today the clinic continues to grow despite tightened budgets everywhere and more need for the volunteers who give so much time.

It’s an organization that deserves our support. Just look at the list of people involved and you’ll see the best we’ve got — from Tampa surgeon Sylvia Campbell, who spends much of her time in Africa and Haiti serving the poorest of the poor; Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee; and religious leaders such as Monsignor Laurence Higgins and Rabbi Richard Birnholz.

Which reminds me ... The Rev. John DeBevoise of Palma Ceia Presbyterian will be the emcee Thursday night.

DeBevoise gives some great sermons but he never will match the late Dr. Ernie Reiner, a long-time volunteer who emceed the banquets with a stack of the worst puns ever heard.

“So,’’ he would say, “the clerk asked me if I preferred paper or plastic and I told him it didn’t matter because I was bi-sackual.’’

Maybe DeBevoise won’t be so bad after all.

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