With over 100,000 households on the Treasure Coast living in an emergency of financial ruin, it can be difficult to access affordable doctors, dentists and prescription drugs.
The ability to get cheap or free medical and dental care and medications can make huge differences in the health of entire families, especially for the roughly 13% of Tri-County area residents who already live in poverty, according to state and federal reports.
“It really has a major impact on the life of a family. We have many families who are underinsured or uninsured and living paycheck to paycheck,” said Colette Heid, director of communications for eight community health facilities in Treasure. Coast in Indian River County, who last year provided low-cost medical, dental and behavioral care. care for 26,357 patients.
“Unfortunately, when the choice has to be made whether mom should go for a mammogram and pay $99 out of pocket, or put food on the table for the week, she’s going to choose to put food on the table,” said added Heid. “So any financial assistance or additional support that we can provide to these families is very important.”
According to a United Way report, around 239,474 Treasure Coast households live below the ALICE Index, an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
The ALICE report released in May 2020, the most recent available, showed that of the 57,636 households in Indian River County, 44% are struggling to pay for their basic needs.
This is the same percentage for the 63,070 households in Martin County and in St. Lucie County, 46% of the estimated 118,768 households are barely getting by.
Statewide, 46% of households face the same financial difficulties.
United Way ALICE Report: A third of Floridians one step away from poverty
Blake Fontenay: Financial woes, compounded by COVID, sometimes hard to see on Treasure Coast
To meet the medical needs of low-income residents, each county has a range of discounted and free medical services provided by hundreds of dedicated medical professionals.
Knowing who to turn to, who is eligible for affordable medical care and how to apply can be daunting, but the internet is a good place to start, as major providers in the area have information and forms online.
Last week, Lisa Hatch, executive director of HANDS St. Lucie County, a Fort Pierce medical clinic that provides free services to qualified residents, was helping a 24-year-old man with no income who needs heart surgery find the vital dental care needed prior to her surgery.
“He has 30 days to have 32 teeth removed,” Hatch said. “We work there almost daily to try to provide him with the services he needs.”
As the only free clinic in St. Lucie County, Hatch said HANDS sees about 2,000 patient visits per month. In addition to medical and dental care, their hospital partners provide about $11 million a year in specialized medical treatment, she said.
In Martin County, Mary Fields, executive director of Volunteers in Medicine in Stuart, said their free clinic treats about 1,000 low-income adult county residents who don’t have insurance, health insurance, Medicaid or veterans benefits.
She urged Martin residents between the ages of 18 and 64 seeking medical attention to call their clinic to determine if they are eligible as a patient based on residence, household income and access to health insurance.
“It can be tough when you just go online and try to figure it out for yourself,” she said. “If you call the clinic and say you have Medicare, you can’t come here. But our social worker could refer you to someone who could help you find a doctor.
Each Treasure Coast county also has state and federally funded facilities offering reduced or free mental health and crisis intervention services. In Indian River County, the taxpayer-funded hospital district provides local access to free mental health and crisis intervention services.
Area hospitals, including St. Lucie Medical Center, in Port St. Lucie, Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, and facilities at Treasure Coast Cleveland Clinic offer discounted and free services to indigent patients who are not eligible for state or federal assistance and are unable to make partial payments or pay their medical bill.
Here is a county-by-county list, although not exhaustive, of the main centers providing non-hospital medical services:
Indian River County
Treasure Coast Community Health (772) 257-8224
Eight centers in Gifford, Sebastian and Vero Beach
- Serves all ages, providing primary care, dental, behavioral health, pregnancy and pediatric services
- Accepts most insurance plans
- Eligibility is determined by the Federal Poverty Guidelines; patients with Medicare or without insurance may be eligible for the sliding fee scale program
Health center for the whole family
Two clinical sites: Fort Pierce (772-468-9900) and Vero Beach (772-257-5785)
- Provides primary care, pediatrics, behavioral health, pharmacy, and transportation services to residents of Indian River and St. Lucie counties
- Accepts most insurance, offers sliding scale discounts to patients at 200% or less of federal poverty guidelines, meaning annual single person income cannot exceed $25,760; for a family of four, the household income cannot exceed $53,000.
- Must provide proof of residency, photo ID or two verified forms of identification, household size, and income using pay stubs or IRS tax forms
We care IRC (772) 794-7422
The We Care program was transferred to the Indian River County Health Department effective January 3. Over the next few months, clinics will be offered in a variety of specialties, including ophthalmology, acupuncture, cardiology, and gastrointestinal, colorectal, and breast screenings. Referrals to medical specialists may also be provided. Patients may be eligible for services if they do not have group or private insurance, proof of residency, and proof of income up to 200% of the federal poverty level.
St. Lucia County
Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County (772) 462-3800
The St. Lucie County Health Department, with seven sites, including the Port St. Lucie Clinic, provides services to county residents at reduced rates.
- Services include medical care, family planning, paediatrics, children’s dental care, and chronic disease treatment. Specialized care is offered to HIV-positive clients who have been diagnosed with HIV and have AIDS
Discounted rates are offered to uninsured adult patients seeking primary or family planning services, and pediatric patients seeking dental services
Medicaid and Medicare accepted; photo ID and proof of income required
Florida Community Health Centers (561) 844-9443
Services include primary health care for adults, pediatrics, dental OB/GYN, pharmacy access and more to residents of St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee and Palm Beach counties.
- Nine health centers located in Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce, Stuart and Indiantown
- Uses a sliding fee scale based on household size and annual federal poverty level
- Must provide valid ID, proof of address, insurance, Medicaid or Medicare card
St. Lucie County HANDS (772) 462-5646
St. Lucie County Health Access Network Inc., or HANDS of St. Lucie County is a free clinic that provides primary health care services to qualified, low-income, uninsured adults.
- Services include free primary, mental health, dental, dermatology, gynecology and vision care for adult county residents living 200% below the poverty line
- Eligible patients must be county residents for at least six months, ages 18 to 64, without any health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, and are not eligible for veterans benefits.
Florida Department of Health in Martin County (772) 221-4000
The Martin County Health Department has a location in Indiantown and Stuart, which shares space with a Florida Community Health Center.
- The two sites connect county residents to health services, including early detection of breast and cervical cancer, insulin distribution, and a teen clinic for free STD and HIV testing. pregnancy and birth control
- Uses sliding scale fees based on income
Medicine Volunteers (772) 463-4128
VIM is a free primary care medical clinic that treats Martin County adults ages 18-64 who do not have health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans benefits.
- Eligible patients must prove their current income is 200% of the federal poverty level
- Residents must have a valid photo ID, Social Security card, proof of residency, and proof of income for the past year
Florida Community Health Centers (561) 844-9443
Serves patients at locations in Stuart and Indiantown. See details above, under St. Lucie County.
Freelance journalist Janet Begley contributed to this story.
Melissa E. Holsman is a legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is the editor and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast. Contact her at [email protected]