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Regional authorities looking at new senior medical care concept

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SUN CITY CENTER – Prescribing what may be a treatment approach unique in the nation, a consortium of regional decision makers is outlining a medical center here solely for seniors.

Such a dedicated center is being envisioned as delivering medical services tailored to the senior age group, serving as a location for training physicians specializing in geriatric care, and offering opportunity for centralized collection of pertinent research data useful to an aging U.S. population – all in conjunction with an established medical facility experienced in the field, under the auspices of a major university’s medical school, in the heart of a well-settled retirement community.

Leaders speaking for the three major participants – South Bay Hospital, a unit of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine and Sun City Center — all indicate committed interest in the project. But, caution also is being signaled as a December court hearing on a long pending application by the hospital for state permission to relocate looms on the horizon. (See related story, page 3.)

In and of itself, a seniors medical center concept is not new. HCA, in fact, operates three such facilities on and around its North Florida Regional Medical Center campus in Gainesville. In addition, there are other such focused treatment centers in the nation-wide HCA network, Melissa Morgan, South Bay spokesperson, noted this week.

Named “Senior Healthcare Centers,” the HCA trio of facilities in the Gainesville area list on their website such services as primary care by doctors specializing in geriatric issues, EKGs, immunizations, bladder scans, osteoporosis infusion, Coumadin/Warfarin testing and laboratory draws. And, in addition to the physicians on site, both certified geriatric pharmacists and nurses trained in care of older patients are included among staff at the three separate locations.

The facilities are described as “hospital outpatient departments dedicated to providing comprehensive geriatric healthcare in one convenient location to seniors on Medicare.” They are not, however, formally associated for personnel training or treatment education purposes with the University of Florida, the state’s land grant college also headquartered in Gainesville.

The Gainesville centers may be indicators of the HCA experience in concentrating specific services for a particular patient population in a single, generally autonomous location, but they are not necessarily exact models for what could be developed on or near the South Bay campus, Morgan said. On the other hand, she added, a South Bay Senior Care Center well could be structured as an outpatient facility, housed outside the existing hospital plant on S.R. 674.

The same hesitancy about precise detail was suggested this week by Dr. Robert Belsole, physician and CEO of the university’s Physicians’ Practice Group which would be involved on multiple levels with doctors staffing a local senior care facility. There is “no formal alliance as we speak,” Belsole asserted, adding that with the South Bay/HCA 2007 plan to relocate to Big Bend Road still on the table, it is difficult to know what resources may be available where. “When this thing polarizes, we’ll know more,” he said.

Nonetheless, Belsole spoke enthusiastically about the opportunity to collaborate with South Bay and the SCC community at large in creating an entity that could promise remedy of what he called the too-frequently “fractured delivery of medical services“ that can be a disservice to patients. The physician executive pointed out he finds no fault with the dedication of medical professionals to quality medical service, particularly that given seniors, but has concerns about physicians’ abilities in the current delivery system to pull together the total picture of the patient and his needs in order to provide top level care.

Belsole noted that as it stands today precise information about a single patient’s medications may be scattered, his tests or exam results can reside in one or more other locations and reports to doctors sometimes can be provided in a faulty unusable form. The result is expense and inefficiency for both patient and physician, often forcing the doctor to require a second appointment to accomplish the first purpose or to set and dedicate time to a later telephone conference with the patient. Such a scenario is especially objectionable, if not risky, when the patient is an older individual, he added.

However, Belsole continued, creation of a center where customized treatment is delivered, upcoming generations of geriatric doctors are exposed to real life medical situations in their specialty and information related to the physical and psychological conditions experienced by older patients is gathered, recorded, centralized, promises better care immediately, based on more comprehensive information available, efficiencies that could offset economic deficiencies plus long term benefits for the aging population along with the physicians who will treat that segment of society.

Much of this picture still is a matter of planning, but, Belsole noted, both the hospital and the university now have set their consultants to developing particulars. Belsole said he expects more detailed information about the functions of such centers at a November meeting with the South County leaders.

That session now is set for November 17, said Dr. Pat Crow, retired physician and SCC resident who has been laying ground work for a dedicated senior care facility during the last year. Crow is recognized as the catalyst whose efforts have produced an organizing collection of about 15 hospital, university and community leaders given the working title “Geriatric Center Project Group.”

Crow also foresees the outcome of the center, once achieved, as an invaluable combination of assets for area senior citizens. A coordinated focus on the medical, social and psychological problems that confront seniors, a combination of medical professionals from various disciplines and training opportunities for both young doctors and nurses going into the geriatric specialties can only equate to better health longer for the aging population, he said. As an example, he cited the importance of coordinated geriatric pharmacology which can lead to a better balance of medications or reduced prescribing or even elimination of drugs a senior may be consuming.

Then, there’s the advantage to retirees of a university-connected medical center dedicated to their well-rounded care within their own community. Such a situation is not known to exist anywhere else in the country, Crow said. And, he summed up, “we can do this.”

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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