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Clearwater hopes to find spot for free dental clinic

CLEARWATER — A nonprofit group wants to open a free dental clinic to serve the working poor in the Clearwater area. But first it needs a location.

The group, called the Community Dental Clinic, says it never got anywhere during talks with Pinellas County government. So now Clearwater is considering providing a home for the nonprofit clinic.

But finding the right spot is proving to be tough.

"Our model is very similar to the Clearwater Free Clinic's model. It is basically to address the dental needs of the working poor in the community," Steve Heller, president of the group's board, recently told the City Council. "We're looking for a facility."

The Clearwater Free Clinic provides medical care for people who can't afford care but who don't qualify for government assistance. It doesn't charge fees, but it asks patients for donations.

The proposed dental clinic would do the same thing for patients' teeth — if it had an office where patients could go.

Clearwater officials have looked at three city-owned buildings as possible locations for the dental clinic, but all three of them present serious challenges.

Long Center: A clinic could go inside the recreation complex on N Belcher Road, in the section of the building where the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens has offices. The clinic would also provide dental care for UPARC clients. But there's a shortage of parking at the Long Center, and the city doesn't think a dental clinic is a good fit with the other activities going on at the rec center.

East Gateway: There's a vacant city-owned building at 14 S Evergreen Ave., located east of downtown and just south of Cleveland Street. But East Gateway residents would almost certainly oppose this location because they don't want anymore social service agencies in their neighborhood.

North of downtown: The city owns a partially vacant building at 410 Maple St., located off Garden Avenue north of Drew Street. But the vacant portion would need restrooms, and adding them would be expensive. Also, the Clearwater Gas System plans to use that section as a showroom for gas appliances.

Clearwater City Council members are divided about whether to even help the free dental clinic.

"What is our core responsibility as a government?" said Vice Mayor Paul Gibson. "It doesn't seem like this is something that's a responsibility of city government."

But a majority of the council has shown an interest in assisting the clinic if possible.

"I truly believe that dental health care is something that we shouldn't turn our backs to," said Mayor George Cretekos.

The council has given a thumbs-down to the East Gateway and downtown locations. Officials are still thinking about the Long Center. They're also thinking about finding a different spot.

"Let's look for private property along the North Fort Harrison corridor," council member Jay Polglaze suggested.

If a suitable location is found, the hope is for the Community Dental Clinic to be open four days a week, serving about 5,000 patients a year, Heller said. Dental work would be done by appointment only, meaning the clinic would need parking for four to six cars at a time.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater hopes to find spot for free dental clinic 01/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 7:16pm]
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