For patients at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, a dose of downward dog and healthy cooking may be just what the doctor ordered.
The clinic is now offering educational programs for Pinellas County residents looking to manage their chronic illness beyond the use of medications.
The clinic hopes these classes will help low-income, uninsured patients manage the conditions they see most often: diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
“We're trying to figure out ways to bring in unique ideas in conjunction with the nutrition, health and the clinical side of things to really expand people's knowledge of basic health care and be able to take care of themselves when they walk out,” said the clinic’s Director of Health Services, Hope Woodson.
According to a 2018 community health assessment conducted by the Florida Department of Health, 20 percent of Pinellas County residents have diabetes and an additional six percent have coronary heart disease.
In 2016, heart disease was the leading cause of death in Pinellas County effecting over 2,500 residents.
While both conditions can be treated with medication, the Centers for Disease Control recommends healthy lifestyle changes to better manage them. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting cigarettes can all decrease symptoms and the risk of flare-ups.
Anna Stoiber, a health educator at the Free Clinic who works mostly with diabetic patients, said that educating patients on their disease and providing them with techniques to regulate their blood sugar is key to helping get their condition under control.
“A lot of patients don’t understand what diabetes is, and what it does, and how it can effect a lot of different aspects in their life,” said Stoiber.
One of the more popular classes at the Education Center is the interactive cooking class offered every other Wednesday. Patients can also attend stress-relieving yoga and Tai Chi classes at the Fourth Street location.
Educational programs are one of the services available to low-income Pinellas County residents. The clinic provides primary health care for adults age 64 and younger without private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, and who do not qualify for county-subsidized health care.
The staff of volunteer physicians and nurses provide basic health and wellness services and can help patients get the medications they need through the Prescription Drug Assistance Program.
While the medical services are only available to residents making less than $25,000 per year, the classes are open to the public.
“We don't want to put any more barriers. If you have a need and we have a class that you're interested in, then we will try to find a way to get you into that class,” said Woodson.