Hope endures: In their fourth year, non-profit clinic thrives for Destin

Hannah Shepherd, Destin Log Contributor
Some of the staff and volunteers at Hope Medical Clinic include (left to right) Wanda Nobles, Joy Crimmins, Dr. Sam Traughber, Misti Schneidewind, Sandy Miller, David Copeland, and Tim Roberts.

Destin is known to many as a “tourist destination” and a “great place to retire,” says Tim Roberts, the Clinic Director of Hope Medical Clinic. But what does Destin’s reliance on the tourism industry mean for the year round residents of Destin and people who commute to work here?

“All the places here require a lot of service industry; we have a lot of people working at the hotels and at the docks and restaurants, and the tourist industry in general. A lot of these types of service industry jobs don’t have insurance included or sometimes they’re cost prohibitive,” says Roberts.

Roberts and Dr. Luke Lentz, the medical director of Hope Medical Clinic, had been looking for a place to set up a prototype program that could help people who were uninsured, and as they looked closer at our area, they realized that there were a large number of people who needed help.

“It started with a couple of people having similar dreams,” Robert said adding that Lentz believes he has  “a spiritual calling to this type of work.”

And so in early 2009 Hope was born at Destin Church of Christ at 150 Beach Drive.

“We came together at a time when we saw a potential here. A lot of people were doing well and we thought it was a good time to get people together on a great idea like this. We had no idea that the economy was going to drop at the end of 2008-2009, and that was right when we opened,” Roberts said. “In some ways it was really a blessing because we started off in a time when there was a great need... I think it was the right time for this community for a place like this to be here. So we’ve been proud to say that we were here when the community needed us most. We’re still here and we’re still going strong.”

Now in their fourth year, the ministry is thriving.

“We have 798 patients right at this moment, and we’re signing up 30 more next week. Have we changed things for some of those 800 people? Absolutely. But it’s a big problem,” Roberts said of the many uninsured and underinsured residents.

The Hope Formula

Though there are many different programs out there that help people to get access to better health care, Hope Medical Clinic is unique because of its main goal: to provide a primary care home for patients.

“We’re not just a walk-in clinic; people don’t walk in and then leave and that’s it,” says Roberts, “once patients are in our system, we see them as family. We’re going to do long-term care just like in the old days when you had your same doctor that you would go to regularly.”

In addition to helping patients navigate an increasingly complex healthcare system, Hope Medical Clinic offers primary care, preventative care, prescription assistance programs, case management, patient education, ongoing care for chronic illnesses, lab services, support counseling, and specialty referrals.

However, none of these services would be possible without the incredible help of the doctors who volunteer their time to Hope Medical Clinic.

They include Drs. David Laughlin, Sam Traughber, Mike Psikogious, Richard Chern, and Sue Pearson.

In total, over the past four years, the volunteer staff has provided over $850,000 worth of medical services.  All told, the clinic provided more than $2.3 million in medical services to the community.

“We have the right partners,” says Roberts, which include Sacred Heart, The Caduceus Society, Direct Relief International, and the Florida Department of Health. “We have a lot of individual specialty doctors who volunteer their time at their offices.”

Volunteer healers

Volunteers have found that they are “getting more than you give,” Roberts said.

“Sometimes our patients have illnesses that might not get better; they have to live with these things. But we are inspired by how they are living through their sickness or their attitude about it, and they make it a pleasure to do what we do.”

Hope Medical Clinic is able to protect all of its volunteer doctors with malpractice insurance through The Volunteer Health Care Provider Program sponsored by the State of Florida.

“We’re kind of a safe place … They can use their talents and skills and still be protected,” Roberts said. “I think that’s really why we don’t have 15 different doctors that come here occasionally, we have 4 or 5 who come regularly, and they keep coming back. They stay because I think they see that and they build these relationships with our patients and that there’s something powerful happening at this clinic.”

In fact,. Hope Medical Clinic is now working with licensed counselors and psychologists so that they are able to offer counseling and mental health services to patients who need it.

“We provide a support system,” says Roberts.

You can volunteer, donate or learn more about the clinic by visiting http://www.hopemedclinic.org/

“I believe in what we’re doing and I think it changes lives but it’s just a small piece of the big picture and we need more doctors and we need more clinics.”