Harbor Style March 2013 : Page 106
A Dream The Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic has a new home in which to assure that all Charlotte County residents have access to quality healthcare. Realized 106 | H ARBOR STYLE
A Dream Realized
Nancy J. Semon
The Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic has a new home in which to assure that all Charlotte County residents have access to quality healthcare.
They say it takes a village. In the case of the Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic in Port Charlotte, it took the efforts of many people throughout Charlotte County to bring two doctors’ dream to fruition as well as one very generous woman who allowed that dream to expand.
The doctors, Dr. David Klein, an ophthalmologist, and Dr. Mark Asperilla, an infectious disease specialist, conceived of starting a clinic for adults who do not have health insurance: the people who have fallen through the cracks, who don’t have enough money to pay privately for medical insurance, whose jobs don’t provide health insurance and who are not receiving Medicare or Medicaid benefits, Klein explained.
Asperilla and Klein, with the help of nearly every doctor in the county — some 200 according to Klein — donated their time and services, and the clinic opened on Gibralter Drive in Port Charlotte on August 7, 2008. Back then it was called the St. Vincent de Paul Community Clinic and was housed in 3,300 square feet of several modular units, said Tom Cappiello, clinic board member and former chairman.
As time went by and the patient list increased during the economic downturn, the clinic was soon “bursting at the seams in terms of space,” Cappiello said. If it were not for a woman named Virginia B. Andes and her generous donation of $1 million, the clinic that serves the uninsured and under-insured in our community would never have happened. And because of her donation, administered by the Charlotte Community Foundation, the VBA has also been able to move on up in the world. On December 12, the clinic moved into its new permanent home at 21297 Olean Boulevard in Port Charlotte.The new building has a total of 8,800 square feet, 5,600 of which belong to the clinic with the remainder leased to a doctor for his practice. Cappiello said that the new clinic “is fantastical.”
A Guardian Angel
In 2004, Andes was interested in doing something with the Charlotte Community Foundation. That “something” turned out to be quite big. For you see, Andes, who said, “I believe everyone deserves the fundamental human dignity of medical care,” decided to donate $1 million for the people of Charlotte County to have access to healthcare, regardless of whether they had insurance. Her donation ensured that Charlotte County’s residents without health insurance would have access to the same quality of healthcare as those who were insured.
Cappiello, who called Andes’s donation a “godsend,” said that she approached the clinic’s board in late 2007, proposing that she would make a donation for a new clinic facility. However, there were some strings attached to that pledge.
Before making the donation, Andes had to be sure that the clinic was sustainable. Charlotte Community Foundation CEO Gregory C. Bobonich, J.D., said that Andes “had a directed fund” and that “we made sure that all the i’s were dotted and the fit’s were crossed.” After undergoing a thorough audit and investigation, the clinic was deemed sustainable, and Andes entrusted her $1 million donation to the Charlotte Community Foundation to administer the monies for the clinic.
To get underway, the clinic needed some $250,000 up front, which the Foundation released, Cappiello said. then, once it was obvious the clinic had outgrown its location on Gibralter Drive, it was time to find a new location. Enter Dr. Chris Constance, who is also a Charlo e County Commissioner. Constance’s medical practice is across the street from the clinic’s new site on Olean Boulevard, and he “put a bug in my ear and said that we should talk to Dr. Fred Swing, the owner [of the building],” Cappiello said. the clinic’s board communicated with Swing, a deal was made that Cappiello said was “a good one,” and the Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic had a new home.Andes’ donation made it possible to purchase the new building outright. Cappiello pointed out that the clinic’s location is ideal; it is directly across the street from Fawce Memorial Hospital and just down the street from Peace River Regional Medical Center.
At a gala celebration on October 16, hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the clinic’s new home and pay tribute to Andes, who is 93 and resides at South Port Square in Port Charlotte. Speeches were made and a tribute lm to Andes was shown on a large screen.Naturally, Klein and Asperilla were in a endance. Both doctors were clearly emotional as they passionately spoke before the crowd. they expressed gratitude and said that it was a dream come true for both Of them. they truly had come a long way with more than a little help from the entire community.
How It All Began
In 2000, Asperilla and Tom Ferrara, Ph.D., joined forces in opening the St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy, a free pharmacy for those who could not afford their medicine. Klein soon joined the pharmacy’s board. “We used to say that we’ve got patients who can’t afford $1,000 for their medicine,” Klein remembered. Numerous doctors in the community donated pharmaceutical company samples; pharmaceutical companies donated their own prescription drugs; donors came forth in the community; grants were wri en and the pharmacy expanded and grew.
Klein and Asperilla kept searching for ways to provide help for those who couldn’t afford their medical care.the doctors already had a lot of experience under their belts. In the 1990’s, they began to volunteer at the AIDS clinic run by the county’s health department. ey provided medical services to migrant workers through the caravan sponsored by Bon Secours - St. Joseph Hospital (now Peace River Regional Medical Center). After Hurricane Charley, they ran a clinic in FEMA Village. “We kept asking, ‘What else can we do to help the general population?’” Klein said to a endees at the Gala celebration. He and Asperilla had seen a model for a community clinic in other counties and “thought that we could do it here.”
Asperilla, who also spoke at the gala, told the crowd that Klein and he saw their own patients losing insurance due to the recession.He said that the county’s unemployment rate of 10–12 percent prompted them to ask, “What can we do for these people?”
"One night I couldnft sleep,h Asperilla told the audience. - is was after he turned to the countyfs health department to see what could be done for those uninsured patients. gI went to the kitchen table and had four napkins [on which] I drew the plan,h he said, adding that he calls it gfour napkins and a prayer,h which became a business model of sorts for the clinic.
Asperilla said that the key he came up with was gcommunity empowerment.h A€ er the countyfs health department told him that it couldnft do anything for the uninsured, "I decided to get the community to empower itself with people helping people.h Asperilla said that the free clinic costs less to run than if the government ran it anyway, but that in order to work, the clinic needs continued community support. And support it has had.
Klein, who often refers to Asperilla as his gbrother,h praised the community and the outpouring of services and generosity given to the free clinic. gIfm amazed, but not surprised,h he said. In the 34 years hefs lived in the county, hefs known it was a caring community.
And Klein and Asperilla are no different. Both men have said that it is their God-given duty to serve others less fortunate. And they both serve beyond the VBA. Both men volunteer at similar clinics They have helped set up in Englewood, Lehigh Acres and La Belle. the two doctors are considering helping to set up a similar free clinic in Immokalee. If it were not for these free clinics, “[Asperilla] and I would be seeing patients in our garage,” Klein said. And it didn’t sound as if he were kidding!
One of the VBA’s early patients was a woman who was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease after a visit to the clinic and various tests, Klein recalled. “She is still alive,” he said, adding that the clinic has quite literally saved lives and improved the quality of life for numerous patients.
Free Services and Cost Savings
From the beginning the clinic’s mission has always been, “To provide no-cost volunteer medical, prescription and wellness services to the underserved residents of Charlotte County.” the clinic serves those uninsured or underinsured Charlotte County residents whose income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. the clinic’s statistics show that it has had 20,000 patient visits. Some 200 volunteers provided more than 70,000 hours of service at a value of approximately $4 million. the clinic partners with 50 local medical providers. More than 120 patients have received outpatient surgical procedures at a fair market value of $2.5 million. Some 8,000 patients received free pharmacy services, with 5,200 prescriptions . Lled at a fair market value of approximately $476,000.
Amazingly, the clinic’s annual operating budget was just $266,468 for 2012.
As Asperilla pointed out, the clinic delivers medical care in a coste ective manner. For non-emergency care, treating a patient at the VBA costs about $100 compared with the average hospital emergency room visit of $1,500. Without the clinic, patients would o en wind up in the emergency room for non-emergency care. the clinic’s presence has resulted in area hospital savings of $3 million per year.
The three hospitals in Charlotte County each donate two surgical procedures per month for clinic patients.
Doctors at the clinic conduct on-site exams, provide episodic medical care, perform minor procedures and provide access to some surgical and laboratory services. When a patient comes in with a particular medical need, the appropriate screener takes the case information. For instance, Deborah Carrier, RN, is a Breast Health Navigator. anks to a Susan G. Komen grant, women can be screened for breast cancer at the clinic and receive the same medical care that an insured person would at a private practice.
Orthopedists, neurologists and other specialists volunteer their services so just about any sort of medical condition can be treated.
(the only service the clinic does not provide is gynecological care According to a volunteer nurse at the clinic. For that, the patient would go to the county’s health department.)
Should a patient require additional tests or a surgical procedure that cannot be conducted at the clinic’s site, they would be referred to a doctor or surgeon who volunteers services to the clinic.
The clinic has a prevention program that supports healthy lifestyles and self care. there are programs, workshops and educational materials that address weight loss, smoking cessation, diabetes management, breast health and stress reduction. And, of course, there is the pharmacy. All are housed under one roof.
Klein said that medical equipment, such as blood pressure cuffs, often comes from doctors who donate their equipment when they retire. And with the new location and extra square footage, there is room for more equipment and exam rooms. Already, the Leadership Charlotte Class of 2012 has donated new examination tables to the clinic.
Movin’ On Up
Before the big move into the new building took place, Andes, who attended the clinic’s board meeting on December 10, was given a tour of the new facility made possible by her donation. M. Suzanne Roberts, M.Ed., CEO of the clinic, said that Andes appeared to be overwhelmed by the clinic that bears her name.
Roberts was joyful about a week before Christmas, when the new clinic was in its second week of operation. She told of how hard many volunteers worked to transfer all of the equipment from the old location to the new. “It was extreme,” she said of the transition.
The clinic on Gibralter Drive saw its last patient on Friday, December
7. It remained closed over the weekend and through Tuesday, she said. A group of volunteers plus two paid “muscle men” moved all of the medical and office equipment and furniture to the new location.“Everyone worked tirelessly,” she said. Phones, computers, the security system and cables were hooked up, and then the cleaners came through once more. Roberts and others “left at 2:30 or 3 a.m., and then we opened five hours later,” she said.
Now that the clinic on Olean Boulevard is up and running, it will need continued support to provide much-needed medical care to the community. Klein said that losing a job and insurance could happen to anyone at any time.
Roberts said that following the purchase of the building, an additional $160,000 was needed for renovations. Cappiello said that so far the clinic has raised $90,000, but “we need another $70,000.”
The Woman Behind It All
Before the film on Andes’s life and legacy was shown at the October gala reception, a woman walked onto the grounds, and suddenly the crowd fell silent. People gathered around her as if she were a Hollywood celebrity. It was Andes, escorted by Laura Amendola, her friend and financial advisor. “It is so outstanding to be here finally,” Andes said, adding that she didn’t think it would happen.She pointed out that when she committed to the $1 million donation several years earlier, she was already approaching her 90’s.
After graduating from Kent State University, Andes began working For IBM in 1942 and was the first female engineer and the first female supervisor in the company. “I developed systems from the ground up,” she said. This was the era of punch cards and World War II. “The boys who ordinarily would be doing that type of work weren’t around,” she said, so IBM “started hiring the girls.” The female workforce “lived in glorified tents” that had wooden floors and solid walls, in what she described as a tent city. In the era before “casual Fridays,” life was formal. “You couldn’t go to the office without your gloves on,” Andes said. She eventually retired from IBM as a systems analyst.
Since Andes had originally planned to become a medical doctor and had even entered into pre-med studies, healthcare has always been near and dear to her heart. Humble and unwilling to take the spotlight, Andes lauded those who volunteer at the clinic. “They do the real work,” she said.
Then it was time to see what all the fuss was about. When HARBOR STYLE toured the VBA Clinic following the reception in October, renovation work was still underway by Brunderman Building Company. But the large rooms were freshly painted and there was a natural flow to the floor plan, with rooms leading out to corridors that wound around the interior in a circular pattern. The reception area was bright and cheerful-looking even without its furnishings.
Several plaques had been hung beside doors, indicating that donors had already given money and the rooms were named in those donors’ honor.
Roberts said that various Future Fund Campaign Pledges are being accepted. If you want to have a room named after you or a loved one, There might still be some left by the time you are reading this story.They range in price from $2,500 to $15,000. A donor has already pledged $20,000 for the pharmacy.
There are also the main entry paver brick and exterior walkway brick programs in which the donor’s name is engraved in the brick for $500 and $150 per brick, respectively.
The clinic always welcomes donations, but it also needs volunteers.
Even if you don’t have a medical background, you might be proficient in office work. Like any large medical institution, a multitude of talents and people are needed.
For more information, go to www.VolunteerCare.org or call the clinic at (941) 766-9570.
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