To meet the healthcare needs of the uninsured residents of Flagler County through the commitment of local volunteers and donations.
Faith Coleman had no health insurance when she learned she had cancer, but she describes her battle with the illness as "one of the absolute greatest blessings" of her life.
"Having kidney cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me ... because I can truly empathize with patients," said Coleman.
That compassion inspired Coleman to start this free clinic in her community to help other uninsured people in need of medical care.
In July 2003, Coleman, a nurse practitioner, learned she had a malignant tumor growing on her right kidney. But as a contract worker for several doctors, she did not receive health insurance. Coleman's treatment totaled about $35,000, and she was forced to take out a mortgage on her house to help pay for it.
"I [fell] through the crack ... and I [had] a great job and a good education," said Coleman, a mother of six.
Realizing that her financial and health woes were not unique, Coleman -- now in remission -- became determined to help those in similar situations access medical treatment.
"I have been given another chance, and I felt that it was important for me to make a difference and to help other people," she said.
So after her recovery in 2004, Coleman approached Dr. John Canakaris. The local physician with 60 years of experience had been treating the indigent population for years. Canakaris was eager to reach more patients in need.
The two worked together to establish the Flagler County Free Clinic in Bunnell, Florida, which provides medical care for the uninsured. It has treated more than 6,700 patients.
The clinic opened its doors in February 2005, with eight volunteers treating eight patients. Since then, it has expanded to 120 volunteers who see about 80 patients every other weekend. Coleman said she's seen an increase in the number of patients at the clinic, which serves people who meet federal poverty guidelines.
"If you see 100 cars in the parking lot, that's us!" Coleman said, describing how she tells people the way to find the clinic. "We have what I call 'controlled chaos.' It's just busy, busy, busy, go, go, go."
The clinic, which operates out of a building donated by Canakaris and other doctors for use on the weekends, is not affiliated with any hospitals, Coleman said. The local Rotary Club, churches and private contributions help fund the operation. In addition, physicians volunteer to see patients recommended by the clinic, and an imaging center donates two X-rays and two CAT scans per month.
Coleman says she and her team generally treat common illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases, but adds "we've also found a lot of cancers." Many diagnoses have led to life-saving treatments.
Future Goals Volunteers have notice the need of a ophthalmologist, and since we have a retired ophthalmologist who is licensed in the state of Florida and is willing to offer his services for this worthy addition to the Flagler County Free Clinic that Dr. Canakaris started and who agreed to provide a room that could be darkened for this purpose, it became evident that we were close to be able to add another service. The only part of the project that remains unresolved is the acquisition of equipment to initiate the service at the clinic. By adding the ophthalmic service, the Flagler County Free Clinic will be able to meet the basic needs of many patients who in reality may have no hope of acquiring such care.
We have experienced a large increase the need of assistance for individuals with many types of health issues. Some of the issues we don't have the resources that would allow the free clinic to help, sadly, at times the patient has to leave with out a solution. Our goal is to help as many residents possible, and to promote to others of our community to lay a helping hand by providing emergency care for residents who are in great need.