Pasco rolls out free medical help
By Kyle LoJacono
Ariana Tompkins spends a lot of her time at intersections.
Sometimes at SR 54 and US 41 in Land O’ Lakes; sometimes where the state road crosses Gunn Highway in Odessa or connects with SR 56 in Wesley Chapel. Sometimes she heads south along US 41 into Hillsborough County.
She can sometimes sell bottled water on those street corners, but more often she can only ask passers by for any money they can spare.
Tompkins, 32, is one of the estimated 4,000 homeless people in Pasco County. She lost her home about six months ago after she was laid off from her job and couldn’t afford her bills.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Tompkins said. “A few years ago I had a good job and a modest home I could afford. Then I lost my job and now I’m just trying to get through each day.”
Tompkins is not married and has no children, but she does have to worry about her own health. She said the last time she went to a dentist was more than a year ago and cannot remember how long it has been since she visited a doctor.
“I couldn’t afford to get medical care right now no matter what happened to me,” Tompkins said.
Pasco recently took a step toward helping people like Tompkins. The county commissioners approved spending $25,000 of donated money from the United Way and Florida Hospital Tampa Bay Division to buy a large van and fill it with medical supplies to treat the homeless in the area. Public money was not used.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who is on the county’s homeless advisory board, said the van will make six to eight trips each month to various homeless shelters across the county. It will be able to treat basic problems like cuts, colds and head lice.
“They’re not doing brain surgery,” Mulieri said. “We have to do it right, but start small.”
Mulieri said the goal is to stop minor health problems before they become major ones that are more costly to treat.
Dr. David Johnson, director of Pasco’s health department, will oversee the treatment given from the bus and will provide a nurse to give the medical care.
Mulieri said she is now looking for ways to raise money to keep the van going indefinitely. She said she plans to talk with area hospitals to ask if they will help provide supplies. She added those donations would actually save the hospitals money by keeping the homeless out of their emergency rooms by treating problems early.
While the care provided will be very basic, Tompkins said such help will be greatly appreciated.
“It would let me get cuts cleaned or anything else,” Tompkins said. She then added, “Plus it lets me know that people care and don’t want me to just die on the streets.”
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