Dr. Pamela Letts remembers the moment last year when her office manager at the Centre Shops Family Practice and Urgent Care handed her the stats for April.
“Between the recession and the oil spill, we were looking at grossly reduced projections,” Letts told approximately 75 people in attendance at a community discussion entitled, “The Future of Healthcare on Longboat Key,” Wednesday, April 27, at Christ Church of Longboat Key, Presbyterian.
She realized that practicing medicine was becoming difficult on Longboat Key because of seasonal fluctuations. A typical winter day brings as many as 30 patients to her clinic; on a summer day, she might see as few as three. Concerned about the long-term future of medicine on Longboat Key, she approached Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce President Tom Aposporos and Vice Mayor David Brenner, who had met with Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) officials in December 2009, as a result of ongoing talks with Letts about the future of medicine on the island.
“The bottom-line conclusion of that discussion was that a deficit was a given of a practice on the Key,” Brenner said. “From there, the question became: Would the community be willing to subsidize it?”
SMH officials had suggested that they look into non-profit models, such as the Boca Grande Health Clinic, which is subsidized by a nonprofit foundation to maintain medical services year-round on the island village. So, last summer, after visiting the clinic with Brenner and Aposporos, Letts established the Longboat Healthcare Committee to explore the issue.
Also at the meeting, Joeseph Curl, who, with other Bay Isles residents, formed the Bay Isles Health Care Committee approximately three months ago out of similar concerns about the future of Key medicine, spoke about an alternative model in which residents would partner with SMH to create a satellite clinic on the island.
“Longboat Key sends $3.6 million per year in tax dollars to Sarasota Memorial Hospital,” Curl said. “For that, we get the opportunity, if we have to, to use that very fine hospital. Our committee thought we ought to have more than that.”
Curl said that his group also met with SMH officials, who agreed to appoint a representative to look into the idea.
Members of both groups agreed that their ultimate objective is quality, accessible medical care on the island and sought feedback from residents.
Residents asked about the availability of services at the Boca Grande clinic, which schedules appointments five days a week but has a doctor on call 24/7 for house calls. One attendee suggested that a medical facility should be available around-the-clock. Letts said that offering extended hours could be problematic, because it would lead to the same number of patients visiting the clinic in a wider range of hours, which would increase costs. Residents also discussed whether a future medical facility should offer specialists or lab work onsite.
Commissioner Lynn Larson, citing her background as director of the Florida Department of Insurance, said legislators could “love a bill to death” by adding expensive provisions and requirements.
“Start with something simple,” she suggested.
Dose of medicine
Dr. Pamela Letts provided the following history of medical services on Longboat Key:
►1993 — Longtime Longboat Key physician Dr. Bill Carter died suddenly of a stroke.
►1993 — The Bay Isles Medical Center opened.
►1996 — Letts began practicing at the Bay Isles Medical Center.
► 2003 — Letts opened the Centre Shops Family Practice and Urgent Care.
► 2005 — The Bay Isles Medical Center closed.
Contact Robin Hartill at email@example.com.
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