Free Clinic’s Impact Grows with Students’ Help

A medical clinic for low-income families can serve the community more efficiently and explore new funding options thanks to the work of two Florida Polytechnic University students.

The Haley Center in Winter Haven, Fla., provides free primary health care to qualified residents in Polk County. It’s a critical service in a county where an estimated 20 percent of the population has no medical insurance.

The clinic operates on a nonprofit’s budget, which can limit the scope of their development and services. That’s where Russell McCreary, of Lakeland, and Mark Hamilton, of Plant City, come in.

When the two graduate students began their work at the end of 2015, all the computers at the clinic were running a home version of the Windows operating system and not connected to a network. The two students updated the software and built a local area network to improve communication between devices. They also evaluated and recommended three different freeware options that will allow the clinic to transition to electronic records.

“This is huge, because our IT was minimal at best before this,” says Dr. Cliff Threlkeld, the Haley Center’s medical director. “This opens up the door to communicating with pharmacies and electronic records.”

While the electronic system is still pending approval, they have three good options to choose from. Instead of taking a guess at what might work, the clinic benefited from two information technology professionals who knew how to properly evaluate a freeware system. When the electronic records eventually go online, it will open up new grant options and federal funding. That’s good news for the clinic and its patients.

“It’s been rewarding to work on this,” says Mark. “When we first got here we could see the need was acute.”

Both Mark and Russell are graduate students with established careers taking advantage of excellent scholarship opportunities to gain their Master’s Degree. Mark received his Bachelor’s Degree in Managing Information Services in 1997. Russell received his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in 1996, or “the eve of the Internet,” as he puts it. He also holds a Master of Business Administration Degree.

Studying at Florida Poly is an opportunity to update his skill set and the Haley Center is his practical application. Russell can list several classes from the University that have guided him through the process, including his research and the network testing.

He shares Mark’s satisfaction in seeing a job well done, especially for one that’s impacting the community.

“The joy comes from solving problems and knowing the good it’s doing,” Russell says.

Mark Hamilton, left, and Russell McCreary at the Haley Center in Winter Haven, Fla.

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