NORTH PORT — Regional residents who need medical screenings can get that opportunity Saturday thanks to a partnership between the Universal Crescent Clinic and Hope for North Port.

The clinic, which operates out of Sarasota, is operated by volunteers.

One of the members on the board is Ruta Maria Jouniari, and said the idea originated two years ago.

“We decided to give back to the community,” Jouniari said.

Jouniari is running for Sarasota County commissioner, but has been active in the organization.

Dr. Shahnaz Ahmed, who volunteers at the clinic, is president of the board. Ahmed said where she comes from, there is not much care for those who are sick.

When she arrived in the United States, she expected that everyone had health insurance, but that idea quickly changed after she went into private practice.

Her first patient was an example of those who worked, but could not access health insurance.

“Because she was sick, she was fired,” Ahmed said.

When the patient came to Ahmed, the clinic was hosting an open house and her mother asked if Ahmed could see what was wrong.

During the screening, Ahmed determined the patient was suffering from an issue in her thyroid, and Ahmed was able to get her help.

She has been providing care to those who need it for the last two years and wanted to do something to give back, after patients died because they could not afford long-term care for treatable conditions.

With the partnership through Hope for North Port, Jouniari and the doctors of the Universal Crescent Clinic will be at New Hope Community Church on Saturday.

When Jouniari spoke with Steve Lecrec, executive director for Hope for North Port, he was more than happy to collaborate.

Lecrec said Hope for North Port started in 2014, providing basic health care screenings for those who cannot access routine medical care in North Port. He originally started with just health fairs, but it’s become more about routine screenings.

Hope for North Port grew out of the New Hope Community Church. Lecrec called Hope the bridge between the church and the community.

“The need is growing and the health department is getting strained,” Lecrec said.

Universal Crescent Clinic will have six physicians and two specialists for asthma and gastroenterology. The group will also have an ophthalmologist on hand while the North Port Lions Club will provide basic eye screenings for children. But not many children are expected at the event since they have access to Medicaid and Florida KidCare insurances.

Jouniari said that she expects 95 percent of those seeking care to be adults without health care from North Port along with Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

Children who may be a part of the event could be those who need care and are with undocumented immigrants unable to apply for health insurance, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

When Universal Care Clinic went to Immokalee following Hurricane Irma, Jouniari said the group took three pediatricians for the kids there.

Ahmed will be at the event and her goal is to help those who need it without the difficulties that come with not having insurance.

Ahmed said the plan for Saturday is to screen residents and get them on a health care plan, but also get them resources they may need.

“People have chosen to not get coverage,” Ahmed said.

According to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, some 45 percent of adults in 2016 cited different reasons for not having insurance, such as lack of work benefits, the cost of insurance and being ineligible for financial assistance, or being in state where Medicaid benefits were not expanded.

Another issue Ahmed sees is that most clinics and health departments work on a sliding pay scale and not everyone can pay that.

The Universal Crescent Clinic, as well as Hope for North Port, allow people who need help to come in without having to prove income, or pay a fee to get help.

She said this was a way to let them know they didn’t have to go without care. Ahmed said Saturday will be her first visit to the area and it will be a way to get an idea of what the patients in North Port will need.

Ahmed said the biggest thing they treat for is hypertension and diabetes.

“I believe in continued care,” Ahmed said.

Like Ahmed, Lecrec believed it was about getting people connected with the right organizations to get the care and help they need. He wants to continue working with organizations like the Universal Crescent Clinic to provide care.

Along with the screenings on Saturday, residents who need prescriptions filled will be able to get some basic medications like amoxicillin, which is a penicillin-based antibiotic, at the event. Others will be provided a list of pharmacies where they can fill prescriptions for a low cost.

Ahmed said through this program, those who need it can access health care without questions.

“They don’t go to the doctor because it’s a Disney trip,” she said. “It’s because they need it.”

Email: aherrera@sun-herald.com^p

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