Two Women Aim To End Medical Desert In West Ocala With Newly Established Medical Center

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The Estella Byrd Wellness Center is the result of a grandmother’s dream, a husband’s dying wish and the persistence of two women determined to bring accessible healthcare to the West Ocala community.

Carolyn Adams, chief executive of the wellness center, is pursuing the dreams of her grandmother, Estella Byrd Whitman, who saw a need in West Ocala for accessible and affordable healthcare.

Whitman grew up in the early 1900s and never had access to education. Growing up in a world divided by race and gender, Whitman was determined to raise her children to have the education she couldn’t.

And she did exactly that – her children and children’s children have degrees upon degrees in medical and professional fields.

Adams, Whitman’s granddaughter, graduated from the University of Florida in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1973 with a master’s degree, both in nursing. Adams was one of the first 43 Black students at the University of Florida and so was her deceased husband, Arthur Adams.

Arthur Adams fought alongside his wife and fought to establish a wellness center in the West Ocala medical desert until his passing in 2013.

The center has been a dream for decades and a work in progress since 2008, when Carolyn Adams retired from working in health administration.

Carolyn Adams (left) and Dr. Pamela Lewin founded the Estella Byrd Wellness Center to end the medical desert in West Ocala. (Sami Ewing/WUFT News)

In 2009, plans turned into action when the Adams met Dr. Pamela Lewin at a health fair in Ocala.

Lewin graduated from medical school in 1969 in Jamaica and later came to the United States to escape political turmoil in Jamaica and finish her medical residency in 1977. She owned a practice in Ocala for 20 years.

It turned out that Lewin shared the same desire as Arthur and Carolyn Adams to provide healthcare to those in need. And so, the three began the challenging work of ending the medical desert.

It’s taken over a decade to have a functioning center.

It was decided that the very same property on which Whitman lived would become the property used for the center. In 2010, the Whitman’s house was torn down to make way for the center.

After nearly a decade of dealing with the bureaucracy of filing to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the technicalities of installing and outfitting a trailer, the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness and Community Resources Center came to fruition and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in 2018.

The City of Ocala designated the center as a neighborhood clinic in 2020.

“We were really excited about that because we knew that the people would come. Well of course COVID came and we had to close our doors,” Carolyn Adams said.

In February of 2020, the wellness center was forced to close.

Adams, alongside Lewin who serves as the medical director, reopened the center in August and are working to provide the medical desert in West Ocala with affordable healthcare, dentistry, health education and a medical home.

“The majority of the people in this zip code, 34475, are below 47% of the poverty line,” Lewin said. “Some of the people are homeless, many of them are on substances. Substance abuse is a big problem in this neighborhood and the whole of Marion county. Many people have hypertension and diabetes – diseases that we may even consider preventable in this day and age.”

The nearest medical service is the emergency room, so the wellness center serves as a much needed alternative recourse for non-urgent healthcare in West Ocala.

The center offers classes to help people manage their diets and to better handle symptoms of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

In one case, Adams and Lewin said they saw one of their patients rid themselves of diabetes altogether with the help of their class. The class teaches diet management and healthy lifestyle choices to combat the effects of diabetes and hypertension.

They distribute food stamps and have job listings available for the community.

Currently, Adams and Lewin are in the early stages of setting up a dentistry component.

In addition to traditional medical examinations for all who come in, the staff provide children with sports and school exams.

In need of routine labs and testing? They do that, too. They also have A1C testing that detects the presence of diabetes and measures blood sugar levels for diagnosed diabetics.

Adams and Lewin take patients from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The address for the Estella Byrd Wellness Center is 819 NW Seventh St. Ocala, Florida, 34475, and its phone number is 352-875-2226.

The Estella Byrd Wellness Center is in need of donations and volunteers. Please visit www.estellawellness.com if you would like to learn more about the center.

“Dr. Lewin, if patients have insurance, if they have no insurance – she’s still going to see them,” Adams said. “We don’t want to turn anybody away.”

About Sami Ewing

Sami is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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