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This week, Rheumatology Network interviewed Michael C. Schweitz, MD, to discuss the recent press release published by CreakyJoints that announced their partnership with the John Whelton Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic.
This week, Rheumatology Network interviewed Michael C. Schweitz, MD, to discuss the recent press release published by CreakyJoints that announced the partnership with the John Whelton Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic, formally known as the Arthritis Foundation Clinic. Schweitz has been a volunteer rheumatologist with the clinic for the last 44 years, the past president of the Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations (CSRO), and past president of the Florida Society of Rheumatology. In this interview, we discuss the history of the clinic, the patients it strives to serve, why CreakyJoints took it over, and the critical importance of saving the clinic.
Rheumatology Network: Hi, Dr. Schweitz. Thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the clinic who it serves and why creaky joints took it over?
Michael C. Schweitz, MD: Sure. In 1975, Dr. John Whelton and Dr. Arthur Virshup, who were the first 2 rheumatologists in Palm Beach County, recognized that there were patients who needed assistance, who were uninsured, and who needed rheumatologic care, and didn't really have a way to get it effectively. They partnered with the local Arthritis Foundation chapter and back then the Arthritis Foundation was divided into state and local chapters, or state chapters and local branches, that provided services to patients with arthritis. So, they partnered with the local branch in the state chapter to open a clinic at 1 of the local hospitals, which they met. When I joined Dr. Virshup in 1977, I was added to the clinic staff and the 3 of us essentially saw patients who were unable to get care because of lack of insurance. And that blossomed into 4 clinics over the years, 3 in Palm Beach County and 1 in Martin County, all manned by local rheumatologists who donate their time to care for these patients. And what it did was relieve pressure relief pressure on the patient because the patient is now able to get the care and medication they needed for their mostly rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. These are chronic diseases that usually require a fair amount of medical attention and relieve the pressure on those of us in practice who were going to take care of these folks in our offices, if necessary, but couldn't always get the necessary lab testing and x-rays and medications. And it really took a lot of pressure off of us trying to find the proper care for the patients. So, this lasted for many, many years, up until I guess 2019 or 2020, when the Arthritis Foundation decided that they were not able to support the clinic. And we had to fend for ourselves to find support. So, the clinic was supported in part by the Arthritis Foundation to raise money for the clinic and in part by laboratories, which reduce the cost of laboratory services, and a local business, local imaging or radiology organization that donated all imaging services for our patients. We were also fortunate to get support from a number of pharmaceutical companies who basically donated most of the medication. And some of these medications, I'm sure you're aware are very, very expensive. And we were able to maintain treatment of these folks through the support of these other organizations when the Arthritis Foundation decided that they were no longer able to support us. We look for other avenues of support to maintain our care now. The funds that we need are for administrative help and to help pay for the laboratory services primarily. The physicians donate their time; we have 12 to 14 rheumatologists who donate time every month to take care of these folks. So we were looking for more support and while we're looking to replace the support, we spoke to the folks at Global Healthy Living foundation and CreakyJoints, who we knew from other interactions in the rheumatology world and they're very effective in maintaining a large network of support and for patients. And they were very receptive to the idea of helping us to raise funds and provide administrative help to maintain the clinic services. So, they've been great at helping us to continue doing what we are trying to do.
RN: Can you tell me a little bit more about why it was renamed the John Whelton and Arthur Virshup CreakyJoints South Florida Arthritis Clinic?
MS: Well, we didn't want anything too short. It was called the Arthritis Foundation clinic and we were going to obviously not use that name anymore. Dr. Whelton, who was one of the founders unfortunately passed away 2 years ago, and Dr. Virshup is retired. The 2 of them were the founders and the staff; they established a clinic in 1975. So, we thought it appropriate to honor them by dedicating the clinic to their names. So that's why we named it the John Whelton Arthur Virshup. And then we added the local as the locale, which is South Florida, and our sponsor, CreakyJoints. So, it's a mouthful, and we're going to have to come up with an acronym, I think. But that's why we named we named after our founders.
RN: Are there any other benefits of saving this clinic?
MS: These folks who we see are underserved and uninsured for the most part. Without us, they're not cared for. We get referrals from other clinic services for underserved and uninsured patients in the county, but they have no other rheumatologic care. So, someone with rheumatoid arthritis is sort of left out in the cold. And you may be aware, rheumatoid arthritis is a pretty severe chronic debilitating disease. And if it's not, if it's not treated early, it can lead to severe disability, and joint destruction and chronic pain. So, these folks need care. And there really was no avenue for them to get that care until the clinic was established. So, we've been doing this now for 46 years. I've been doing it 44 years. Most of the docs who do the clinic have been involved for 2 or 3 decades. So, it's really well established. We use, we're now using physicians’ offices to provide the clinic care once a month. So once a month, it's in 1 of my practice’s offices in West Palm Beach, once a month, it's in 1 of our offices in Boynton, it's an another office in Boca, and another groups office and store in Martin County. So, we have 4 clinics that are held in our physician's offices. A lot of these folks are not going to get the kind of rheumatologic care that is going to make a difference in in their life.
RN: Is there anything else that you'd like to add about CreakyJoints and the clinic before we wrap up?
MS: CreakyJoints has been a lifesaver. We're really indebted to them stepping up, and helping us not just helping us with funding, but a lot of other support in an admin and administrative way. Just having someone with that kind of reach in the rheumatology world to support us has been a lifesaver.
RN: Well, Dr. Schweitz, thank you so much for meeting with me today. I really appreciate it.
MS: My pleasure.