Dr. Pamela Letts treats anywhere from 30 to 50 patients a day during the height of season at the Centre Shops Family Practice and Urgent Care. On a typical day, she might perform a wellness physical, treat a stingray bite or examine a patient with chest pains. But during the dog days of summer, the number of patients she treats during an average day drops to six.
Letts is currently considering the long-range planning of the clinic and wants to ensure that health care on the island remains viable in the long term.
“It’s an essential service,” she said.
But she knows that eventually drawing a new doctor to the practice could be difficult because of the seasonal fluctuations. So recently, Letts traveled to Boca Grande with Commissioner David Brenner and Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce President Tom Aposporos to check out the Boca Grande Health Clinic, which could be a model for Longboat Key to follow.
The Boca Grande Health Clinic was established in 1947 and provides year-round care to the Gasparilla Island community, which, like Longboat Key, has a population that is largely seasonal. According to its website, bghc.org, the clinic has three doctors (one full-time and two part-time) and is open by appointment and on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday, with a physician on call 24 hours a day. But the clinic is a non-profit organization subsidized by the Boca Grande Health Clinic Foundation Inc., which was founded in 2003. Since the foundation was established, its endowment has grown to approximately $18 million.
Brenner said that maintaining health-care services on the island is part of the town’s vision plan. The Boca Grande clinic is run in a business-like fashion, he said, but with a subsidy that covers the income deficit that occurs during the off-season, he said.
“If it can work there, why couldn’t we have something like that here so that it’s an institutional structure and not all dependant on one doctor?” Brenner said.
“It’s the perfect template for the creation of a similar foundation on Longboat,” Aposporos said.
Letts plans to hold a public meeting about the idea in the fall.
“I think something like this is going to be necessary for maintaining medical services on the island,” she said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].