In 1976, Dr John Whelton and Dr Arthur Virshup were frustrated that many patients with rheumatologic conditions in their community lacked sufficient care because they couldn’t afford health insurance, which affected their ability to get laboratory work, imaging, or medications. In South Florida, the Hispanic community was disproportionally affected by lack of access to comprehensive care. With that in mind, Dr Whelton and Dr Virshup started a free clinic in West Palm Beach, Florida, that offered high quality care in the English and Spanish languages to the underserved population.
I started volunteering at the clinic in 1977, and it has been one of the most rewarding commitments of my career.
Now named the John Whelton Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic, the clinic provides care to patients primarily from Palm Beach and Martin Counties in Florida. Once a month, rheumatologists, like myself, volunteer to provide consistent and high-quality care that is identical to the care provided to patients seen in private practice. Patients who visit this clinic also have access to laboratory and imaging services subsidized by local supporters (and free to patients), including Quest Diagnostics and Diagnostic Centers of America. It can be difficult to find a rheumatologist who accepts Medicaid, so the clinic accepts referrals from community physicians, as well as from other health care non-profits in a 3-county area.
Not everyone is a candidate for the clinic; there are strict eligibility requirements in place to ensure we are reaching the patients who are most in need. We see patients with a range of rheumatologic conditions and one of the most important benefits our clinic provides is continuity of care, which is critical to improving health outcomes and reducing the risk for serious, disease-related complications.
South Florida Arthritis Clinic Saved From Closing
Last summer, we were alarmed and, frankly, panicked when our longtime funder, the Arthritis Foundation, unexpectedly announced that financial support would not continue in 2021; in addition, the clinic was evicted from its physical home in West Palm Beach, which was built with community donations. Our greatest concern was the risk of our patients losing access to disease monitoring, management, and vital medications. It was a relief when the non-profit CreakyJoints.org stepped up to provide administrative, educational, and financial support. The digital, non-profit organization is also creating an endowment for the clinic so that we never have to worry about supporting our patients in the future.
Working with CreakyJoints forced us to take a look at how the clinic serves patients. Rather than being focused on a physical location, the John Whelton Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic now operates out of 4 private practice locations in Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Stuart, and West Palm Beach, Florida. One day each month is devoted to clinic patients and, as always, they will have the same experience as patients seen on other days. CreakyJoints has also hired a dedicated administrator to manage clinic operations.
In addition, our providers will proactively introduce our patients to the support, education, and research opportunities offered by CreakyJoints, which are also always available free. In particular, we’ll be encouraging patients to download the ArthritisPower app at www.arthritispower.org, which allows them to track their arthritis experience, share those data with us and their doctors, and also volunteer for research studies. Given health disparities in the Hispanic community, which have become even more apparent during the pandemic, it’s vital that we understand how diverse people in the arthritis patient community experience disease. Shortly, this app will also be available in Spanish.
The John Whelton Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic plays a vital role in providing continuity of care to vulnerable patients and it’s been an honor to work with my fellow rheumatologists, our partner health care services providers, and other stakeholders to ensure its longevity in the community. More importantly, it’s been personally gratifying to maintain years long relationships with patients most in need of care.