Monday Meeting: Owen O’Neill of Clinics Can Help


What started as an idea that popped into Owen O’Neill’s head soon became more than his closet and garage could handle.

There ought to be a way, he figured, to get expensive medical equipment some people no longer needed — such as hospital beds, motorized wheelchairs, nebulizers and walkers — to others who did need it but could not easily afford it.

“When Clinics Can Help was started it was just me and I was collecting walkers and canes and I would store them in my closet,” recalled O’Neill, 49, the group’s executive director and a former hospice nurse who helped care for patients at the end of life. “Soon, I had a garage filled with wheelchairs and hospital beds that I would donate to people referred by local free clinics.”

More than a decade later, the West Palm Beach-based nonprofit Clinics Can Help has served 6,500 clients with more than $3.5 million worth of medical equipment, according to the organization. In 2015, it was able to assist 2,000 clients by donating over $820,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies, officials said.

“The work we are doing is a making a significant difference in the lives of so many and our economy,” O’Neill said.

Name: Owen O’Neill

Age: 49

Hometown: Philadelphia

Where you live now: Palm Beach Gardens

About your organization: Clinics Can Help is a not-for-profit organization that I founded in 2005. We increase access to medical care for thousands of children and adults in Palm Beach County by providing medical equipment and supplies that they simply cannot afford on their own.

How your work has changed: When Clinics Can Help was started it was just me and I was collecting walkers and canes and I would store them in my closet. Soon, I had a garage filled with wheelchairs and hospital beds that I would donate to people referred by local, free clinics. The need was huge and soon I was taking referrals from four free clinics, 13 local hospitals and over 20 medically related agencies in Palm Beach County. Today, Clinics Can Help has a staff of five full-time employees and a board of eight people. After six years at our present site, we’ve purchased and are in the process of renovating a 5,000-square-foot facility that is centrally located in West Palm Beach. This new site is going to significantly increase our capacity to help more people in need of medical equipment and supplies.

In 2015 alone, we assisted 1,933 clients by donating over $821,000 worth of medical equipment. Our focus is Palm Beach County, but we get calls from all over South Florida.

First paying job and what you learned from it: I got my first paper route when I was about 13 years old. That taught me organization, responsibility, and customer service. I learned to have my own money and how to handle it. I ended up having three separate paper routes and made a lot of money for a young person. I struggled in school, but I always had a job that taught me valuable lessons about work, how to take orders and how to give them. I look back often and think of the bosses I had and I can see just how good they were.

First break in the business: Clinics Can Help literally started while I was working as a hospice nurse. When families no longer needed medical equipment, so many of them wanted to donate their medical equipment to someone who could use it. I recognized that it was an important part of their healing process, and a great way to help those in need with the rising costs of health care and equipment, so I picked up a wheelchair and put it in the back of my truck. I then found someone to donate it to who’d been discharged from a local free clinic. After about two months of helping people in this way, I started getting phone calls from local hospitals.

In 2007, we were very fortunate to have Palm Healthcare Foundation believe in us and give us a $25,000 grant to set up a domestic medical relief project. We didn’t even know what to name it, so we stayed with Clinics Can Help, even though we were now taking referrals from hospitals, schools and not-for-profit agencies. People were so happy to get help, the name stuck and soon we were branded. I don’t think we could change the name now if we wanted to.

Best business book you read: “Managing the Nonprofit Organization” by Peter Drucker.

Best piece of business advice you received: “Tell a good story.” People want to hear about the people we help and the good work we’re doing.

What you tell young people about your business: I say that having access to medical equipment allows a person to heal faster, it protects them from further injury and decline, and it allows people to get back to work, school and their community. The work we are doing is a making a significant difference in the lives of so many and our economy.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? I see a place where every person who needs medical equipment for mobility, independence and dignity, gets it, regardless of their ability to pay.

Where we can find you when you are not at the office: I love Juno Beach. I spend time there running, cycling, surfing and dog walking. I can also be found sitting at home playing my guitar. I just took it up. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play and I am really enjoying it now that I’ve started.

Favorite smartphone app: I just downloaded a guitar tuner app and it’s become my new best friend.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Someone with a passion to make the world a better place, and someone who is looking for a job with longevity. There is a lot of opportunity in this industry and if someone is passionate we can do great work!


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