Hometown Hero – February 2019

Helping Marion County, one person at a time

For 25 years, Ann Burnett has planned and organized international medical mission trips with United Hands, Inc., the nonprofit organization she and her husband started. After serving in countries such as Africa, South and Central America, and across the Caribbean, Ann realized she didn’t have to travel overseas to discover the great need for health care.

As an emergency room physician with AdventHealth, her husband, Don Bovell, M.D., FAAEM, frequently saw patients in the ER with chronic diseases and toothaches because they couldn’t afford routine medical and dental services. He and Ann decided to bring their international medical missions closer to home.

That was the beginning of FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA.

“Five years ago, we started providing free medical, dental, vision and mental health services in large U.S. cities, like Los Angeles, San Antonio and others,” says Ann, a native of Jamaica whose family immigrated to the United States before she was an adult. “Although we still organize and participate in our international mission trips, in 2015, we launched FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA in Marion County.”

That first effort, which covered five days, was entirely self-funded.

“When the Marion County Hospital District saw what we did, they invited us to apply for a grant,” says Ann, executive director of FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA. “We got that grant, and they’ve graciously extended the grant to us each year.”

FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA, which is staffed primarily by volunteer health care professionals, offers completely free health care services for Marion County residents who are uninsured, underinsured, low income and homeless. In addition to medical, dental and eye care, services include mental health assessments, oral hygiene, health education, free exercise programs and cooking classes.

“In 2017, we started doing our free clinics once a month, and in 2018, we continued that and [were] sometimes able to offer two and three days a month,” notes Ann, explaining that clinic locations move to different venues around the county to provide accessibility for more people.

Since FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA’s inception, hundreds of Marion County residents have received free health services.

“We work in partnership with the University of Florida School of Dentistry, local dentists and the Marion County Hospital District. We now have Ocala Eye as an eye care volunteer provider, along with Dr. Gene Zanetti,” she adds. “Our volunteers are motivated by their love of people and their passion to serve their community. I’m just one person, but I have an incredible team of volunteers and staff; without them this would be impossible.”

The great demand for mental health care led to the opening in April 2018 of an office downtown on Broadway Street.

“We hired a staff of counselors and therapists when we realized the need was greater than our current capacity,” relates Ann. “The Marion County Hospital District generously started funding us.”

Ann’s background is in business and real estate, not health care, but when she sees a need, she is determined to put effort and resources into meeting it.

“My motivation is to love like Jesus loved and to serve like Jesus served,” she says simply. “We’re making it a better place in Marion County, one resident at a time.”

Learn More freedomclinicusa.orgfacebook.com/freedomclinicusa

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