It took three special sessions to pry a medical malpractice reform bill out of the Florida legislature last summer. As with similar bills that have passed across the country, its stated purpose was to keep doctors from fleeing the state.
But an August study by the General Accounting Office shows that doctors are not, in fact, flocking from Florida. It claims that "reports of physician departures in Florida were anecdotal, not extensive, and in some cases.determined to be inaccurate."
Our own records show that Sarasota has 53 percent more medical doctors-1,315 in all-than it did three years ago. And despite diminishing Medicare payments and rising medical malpractice rates, they're still coming.
In the past three years, at least 12 medical fields have seen increases of nine percent or higher here in Sarasota. The county has 16.5 percent more registered nurses, 26 percent more psychologists and 11 percent more physical therapists. In fact, Sarasota hasn't registered a decline in at least 25 medical fields in the last three years.
Take women's health. While obstetricians are reportedly abandoning their profession in other parts of the country, we still have 20 practicing here. The bi-county area has three obstetrics wards, one each at Sarasota Memorial, Blake Medical Center and Manatee Memorial Hospital. We even have five licensed midwives and several licensed doulas,
Why we have remained so attractive to new and relocating medical professionals is no mystery. After an 80-hour workweek, a sparkling sand beach is a lot more fun to come home to than an iced-over sidewalk.
Aside from lifestyle, the relatively small distance between our two major hospitals (Sarasota Memorial and Doctor's Hospital) appeals to physicians who have privileges at both hospitals. Most of our medical community is centrally located downtown, and we enjoy a wealth of specialties, state-of-the-art equipment and clinical research that is rare for a city this size. We also have a large pool of older patients who want and can afford the latest medical procedures.
General healthcare fares just as well. Here's a brief look at what this city of health has to offer.
Given our demographics (nearly 32 percent of Sarasota's population is 65 or older), the area is filled with luxurious assisted living facilities, nursing homes and centers that treat Alzheimer's and dementia. Many agencies offer health services to disadvantaged citizens as well. One of those is J. H. Floyd Sunshine Manor, which offers skilled nursing and rehabilitation services to low-income seniors. Another example is Senior Friendship Center, which, along with fitness and social programs, also offers free and low-cost health care to those on fixed incomes. In 2002, the center provided more than a half-million dollars in free care.
Sarasota is home to one of only 25 facilities in the country that are part of The Wellness Community, where cancer patients and their families can receive psychological and emotional support. The Center offers one-on-one and group counseling, nutrition counseling and relaxation classes, all at no charge.
For men, The Dattoli Cancer Center has pioneered many of the innovations associated with modern prostate brachytherapy; patients travel from around the world seeking treatment here. Radiation Oncology Centers offered the first prostate seed implant therapy here nearly 30 years ago and continues to participate in clinical trials in the research and development of cancer treatments.
The cancer program at Sarasota Memorial has been accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer since 1986. The commission gave the hospital its highest overall rating, ranking it in the top 28 percent of the 1,178 health care organizations approved by the college. Sarasota Memorial was the first center to offer positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to detect early cancers and is also using digital mammography to detect breast cancer and photodynamic light therapy to treat lung and esophageal cancers. It is also into the third year of affiliation with the esteemed H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Four hospitals serve Sarasota County; two more are available to North County residents in nearby Manatee.
Downtown, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is the second-largest acute care public hospital in Florida, and its clinical research center participates in trials alongside such esteemed institutions as Duke University, Emory University and the Cleveland Clinic. With 828 beds, it ranks among the top 25 hospitals in the U.S. in the number of open-heart surgeries performed annually. It has the third-largest cardiac program in Florida. Opening in March 2004 on Clark Road is Healthplex, a medical wellness center that will include physical rehabilitation and a fitness center.
At the 168-bed Doctor's Hospital, near I-75 on Bee Ridge Road, patient satisfaction surveys reach to nearly 100 percent. Its emergency care department is one of the hospital's highest-rated in its internal quality control system, says spokeswoman Ginger Mace, and the JCHAO recently awarded the hospital its Golden Seal of Approval. In addition to an excellent cardiovascular facility, Doctor's offers oncology, orthopedics, neurological services and a wound-care center.
Further south are Englewood Community Hospital and Bon Secours Venice Hospital. Englewood is distinctive for its third-time inclusion in The Solucient Institute's top 100 hospitals in the nation for overall care. It was the only hospital in Sarasota County to achieve this distinction, and in 1999 and 2000, it was recognized as one of the nation's top 100 hospitals for orthopedics and stroke care.
Bon Secours Venice Hospital serves South County with 342 beds and an orthopedics program that was named one of the top 100 in the country. Bon Secours is also among the top 100 stroke care centers in the country.
To the north are Manatee Memorial Hospital and Blake Medical Center, which performs more than 300 cardiac surgeries every year. Both are acute-care, full-service hospitals.
SERVICES FOR THE DISABLED
An estimated 20 percent of Sarasota's population is physically or developmentally disabled. Easter Seals and United Cerebral Palsy assist those with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, mental retardation, epilepsy, Down syndrome, blindness and deafness.
Mana-sota Lighthouse for the Blind provides specialized services for the visually impaired, while Southeastern Guide Dogs offers professionally trained guide dogs. At the Sarasota Cataract & Laser Institute, Dr. Harry Grabow participates in leading-edge research, including FDA studies of new products and techniques. At Center for Sight, Dr. David Shoemaker is among a select group of physicians chosen to serve as FDA investigator for new ophthalmic technologies, including implantable contact lenses and foldable intraocular implants. The Sarasota Retina Institute participates in FDA trials for macular degeneration treatments.
Deaf Service Center and the Sarasota chapter of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) serve more than 60,000 hearing-impaired people in Sarasota and Manatee counties. The Silverstein Institute is a nationally recognized center for hearing research. Its founder, Dr. Herbert Silverstein, is considered a leading authority on Meniere's disease and has invented several implants in wide use today. Surgeons and technicians come from across the world to learn his techniques.
Meanwhile, the Movement Disorder Society offers a specialized neuro-rehabilitation clinic, adult day care and wellness programs for Parkinson's patients and those with movement disorders.
MENTAL AND SOCIAL SERVICES
Sarasota enjoys the services of 211 mental health counselors, 112 psychologists and 49 registered clinical social workers. In addition, Manatee Glens is the area's oldest and largest provider of mental health services and addiction treatments, and Mental Health Community Centers has three drop-in facilities in Sarasota, Venice and Arcadia. The Manasota Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) provides day, residential and employment services.
ALTERNATIVE HEALTH CARE
Not so surprisingly in a town known for its creative spirit, alternative and innovative healing arts are well-represented. We have more than 100 osteopaths, nearly 1,500 licensed massage therapists, 128 acupuncturists and 213 chiropractors. More than 700 occupational and physical therapists are available to rehabilitate injuries; after you heal, 38 licensed athletic trainers can whip you back into shape.
COSMETIC AND PLASTIC SURGERY
Sarasota also enjoys the services of 11 plastic surgeons who are certified by the American Board of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and others who are certified by the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.