A Sarasota Memorial Hospital subcommittee voted last week to approve a $3.6 million purchase of property near St. Armands Circle to build its sixth urgent care center.
If the hospital board approves the purchase at its Dec. 15 meeting, Sarasota Memorial would purchase the land and building at 500 John Ringling Blvd., where St. Armands Medical Center and a Re/Max Platinum Realty office are currently located.
The purchase does not include the building’s medical practice, according to Frank Morgan, executive director of outpatient services at Sarasota Memorial.
St. Armands Medical Center owner Dr. Edward Carlstrom, who owns the 5,476-square-foot property, said he plans to move his practice to Bahia Vista.
“I’m slowing down, and the walk-in business requires more energy,” said Carlstrom, 65.
Sarasota Memorial has considered building a clinic in the area for approximately five years.
“We certainly wanted to have a presence, but it was about finding the right location,” Morgan said. “We really felt we had a location that could serve not only St. Armands and Longboat Key but also Lido Key, Bird Key, Plymouth Harbor and certain areas west of the trail.”
Longboat Key residents say the likelihood of a St. Armands urgent care facility does not eliminate the need for medical services on the Key.
“A lot of people would like to have their own doctor, and consequently, Sarasota Memorial is not a primary care doctor,” said Dave Brenner, former Longboat Key vice mayor, who currently serves as managing director of the Longboat Key Foundation. “I think we still believe this is worth pursuing.”
The seasonal nature of Longboat Key’s population makes sustaining a medical practice a challenge. But with the Key’s median age of 71.4, many say that a medical practice is a necessity for the island.
Before retiring and closing her Centre Shops Family Practice and Urgent Care in May, Dr. Pamela Letts told the Longboat Observer she worried that elderly patients who seldom drive off the Key would not seek care and instead attempt to self-treat of self-diagnose instead of driving to the mainland.
Since Letts’ retirement, the Key has been without a family practice or urgent care provider.
The foundation has discussed the possibility of contributing capital to help with startup costs of a practice.
David Novak, a longtime practice management consultant, has worked to bring a medical practice to the island. He believes the Sarasota Memorial facility would have minimal impact on a hybrid practice model he believes would succeed on the Key.
That model would offer boutique membership-based plans but would also treat individuals who do not have memberships and bill their insurance.
“Many people who go to an urgent care center go when something pops up, such as injuries or when the primary care doctor’s is closed,” Novak said. “By definition an urgent care center is exactly that, not a place you go to on a regular basis, and what will work on Longboat is a full-time primary care practice where patients establish and develop a relationship with a primary care doctor.”
Meanwhile, if the hospital board approves the purchase of the St. Armands property next week, the next 60 days “will be homework time,” as hospital officials determine whether to renovate the existing building or demolish it, according to Morgan.
Ideally, the hospital would open the St. Armands facility in late 2015 or 2016. The facility will be Sarasota Memorial’s sixth satellite urgent care clinic.
Sarasota Memorial estimates a St. Armands facility could treat at least 9,000 patients annually.
Morgan described the need that the hospital’s urgent care centers fill in the community.
“The cost to go to an urgent care center, versus the cost to the emergency room, is just a fraction,” he said. “It’s more cost-effective, but also, it’s more convenient for the community.”
Sarasota Memorial Hospital currently operates urgent care centers in the following areas:
• Heritage Harbour, Manatee County
• University Parkway
• Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota
• Stickney Point Road, Sarasota