On May 3, 1974, the Panama City Artificial Kidney Center held its organization meeting and elected a slate of officers to manage the center. At that time, no one would envision the impact that meeting would have on a hurricane-ravaged community 44 years later.
That meeting was actually the culmination of many years of effort to provide local dialysis treatment to those in need in our community. Dr. Sydney Daffin was a key figure in that effort, as were Harold Phillips, Jean Miller, Dr. Byron McCormick, and a number of community leaders who volunteered their time. Dr. Daffin mentions a relatively unknown patient as being one of the primary reasons he became involved.
One of Daffin’s early patients was Bobby Griffin, a young black man, who was already having liver failure. Daffin movingly describes Bobby’s problem as eventually requiring dialysis which was not available locally. He referred Bobby to a friend in Pensacola, the nearest dialysis center, for treatment. He had to go twice a week, riding a bus there and back, a difficult trip for a man already in poor health. Daffin’s friend suggested he start a center in Panama City, but Daffin’s schedule with his many patients here made that a difficult decision. However, if wasn’t very long before the need became more critical. Bobby’s health, in the meantime, had deteriorated to the point that the only help would be through a kidney transplant. Daffin used his ties to friends who he studied with at the University of Miami to arrange for transplant surgery, which unfortunately wasn’t successful. Bobby’s death touched Daffin so that he still gets emotional in describing it.
Harold Phillips became another early patient of Daffin, also with significant kidney problems. Daffin arranged for a transplant in Miami for Harold, with Harold’s sister as the donor. The procedure was successful and gave him many more years of active participation in business, as well as leading the effort for a local center. With Daffin’s help, the Center was organized, with Jean serving as the first Chair, Harold as Vice Chair, and eight additional influential citizens working with Dr.s Daffin and McCormick.
The Center began in a mobile home located in the parking lot of the BMC ER, equipped with 2 dialysis machine, the volunteer medical staff of Daffin and McCormick, an administrative staff of two, and a lend-lease Nephrologist from Pensacola. By 1978, the Center moved to the old ICU unit at BMC. By that time, the Center had 6 machines and a Medical Director. In 1985, construction began on a new Building, which was opened in July of 1978 as a freestanding facility one block from BMC. The 8500 square foot building contained 26 dialysis machines, a staff of three administrators, twenty-five professional workers, three doctors and other support staff. It provided testing and treatment for all types of kidney disease.
The fundraising effort that resulted in the expanded Center and services was truly a community effort. Review of the scrapbooks kept by the Center, and especially Shirley Phillips, shows stories from the News Herald over the years with scores of donations from service clubs, church groups, and schools, as well as significant support from groups at Tyndall and the Navy Lab. Our community is known as a giving community, and the scrapbooks reinforce that reputation.
The Center was so successful, the Center was sold to continue its operation as a private entity. The sale was for $1,800,000. The volunteer Board, by that time numbering 22 members, decided to put the proceeds of the sale into a Charitable Foundation with the charge of using the proceeds to support charitable organizations of Bay County. Harold Phillips, and later his wife Shirley, served as early leaders of the new Board known as the Community Service Foundation. Charley Gramling is the only continuing member of the Artificial Kidney Center and the Community Service Foundation.
Annually, the Community Services Foundation has given at least 5%, and usually a little more, to help worthy and needy charitable organizations in Bay County expand their services, obtain needed equipment, and meet other needs requested as a grant for the year. As of 2019, the CSF has awarded over 2 million dollars to Bay County agencies. This figure is distorted slightly, though, because in October of 2018 Hurricane Michael not only destroyed homes and belongings, but also destroyed many of the agencies that normally would provide support to our citizens. At the first meeting following Michael, the board had to forego its usual request for grants. As Chairman Amy Fulton pointed out at that meeting, the Foundation was created for “times such as this”. Some of the guidelines the Foundation had used in the past was that grant requests could not be used to fund normal operation expense, and that the requests should be for needs rather than wants. The Board wanted to use the funds in ways that met the needs of Bay County citizens first.
In the confusion and communications breakdown following the storm, the Board was very aware that the needs were overwhelming but difficult to identify and prioritize. After efforts to do so, it became clear that the best first hand knowledge of the needy came from the teachers in the school system. They were the ones who knew their students and were able to follow up and determine their status. The entity working most closely with the student needs was the Junior Service League, which provided almost $100,000 in support annually to the students and their families, but was unable to have their Holly Fair fundraiser that year for that purpose. The CSF was able to largely offset that deficit and enable them to provide their usual support. After the first of the year, the Board was also able to determine the problems incurred at many of the agencies and provide funding for those determined to be most effective in meeting the needs. Instead of the normal distribution of about $100,000 in prior years, it was increased to almost $300,000 for 2019. For the first time, the grants could be used for operational needs, because some of the agencies would not be able to continue without that support.
The CSF was indeed founded for times such as this, and we can thank the efforts of Dr. Daffin, the early boards, and especially the Phillips family and the many other volunteers over the years for providing that resource. They can be proud of their part in making the 850 Strong recovery possible.