In 2011, new buildings let health agencies offer more, better care

The Hernando County Health Department’s new facility in Spring Hill houses the majority of the agency’s operations.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

The Hernando County Health Department’s new facility in Spring Hill houses the majority of the agency’s operations.

Several health and social service agencies in Hernando County strengthened themselves during 2011, adding space and improving quality and efficiency of delivery.

Some added to their ranks of volunteers, as well.

Responding to growing needs in the community, the Hernando County Health Department, Crescent Community Clinic, the Enrichment Centers and Arc Nature Coast all expanded into new quarters during the past year.

A two-story brick and glass structure, which had caught the eye of passersby on Forest Oaks Boulevard for several months, opened in September as the consolidated headquarters for Health Department clinics and offices.

Envisioned for 14 years, the 57,000-square-foot structure supersedes three scattered rental spaces.

"This beautiful new building, paid for by the federal government, is a big positive for us," said executive administrator Bill Spence, on the job only since Nov. 30. The former director of the Seminole County Health Department, Spence assumed the helm in Hernando upon the retirement of Elizabeth Callaghan.

"It was basically built for the future," Spence said. "A couple of clinic areas are basically unused. That gives us a lot of opportunity and advantage for the future."

The future may be at hand.

"It's challenging when the economy gets bad," Spence said, "meaning more people need services, and our financial stream is shrinking."

Financial wherewithal is limiting, as well, for the Arc Nature Coast, which, like the Health Department, relocated this year from three rented facilities into a single 8,500-square-foot education center and regional special-needs hurricane shelter at Mariner Boulevard and Partridge Street in Spring Hill.

Said director Mark Barry: "It's the first space to fit our needs."

"(But) it's financially challenging," he added, complicated by the fact that the waiting list of those seeking services for the developmentally disabled has been pretty much frozen by the state, Barry said.

For the building project, Arc launched a $400,000 capital campaign that raised $320,000. Some of the money was pledged over several years, however, so Arc ended up financing about $600,000.

But Barry concluded: "For about a $3.5 million project, I feel good about what we accomplished."

Also feeling good after a move in July to more spacious and accessible quarters on Commercial Way in Spring Hill was the Crescent Community Clinic, a free health care provider for the uninsured founded by local Muslim doctors. It has since enticed health professionals of all faiths.

Since the move from Brooksville, patient numbers have increased by some 200 percent, said volunteer coordinator Barbara Sweinberg.

"We're averaging 10 to 15 applicants per week," Sweinberg said. "Since July, we've had 942 new patients. One Saturday we had five doctors who saw 85 patients. And that doesn't count the lab, and those are 21 to 32 each week."

While eight doctors come to the clinic, other physicians are accepting, for free, Crescent referrals in their offices. Volunteer professionals, including physicians, psychiatrists, dentists and all of their assistants, number about 90, Sweinberg said.

Since its startup with primary care, the clinic has grown to include dentistry and mental health services. Hours and days of operation have expanded, too.

So in demand are its services that the clinic has had to go to making appointments rather than accepting walk-ins, Sweinberg noted.

The clinic recently received a $27,000 grant from the Blue Foundation, which earlier had awarded a $100,000 startup grant; two $4,000 grants from the Community Foundation of Hernando County, and a $5,000 grant from Bank of America. Sweinberg pointed out the clinic receives no government money. It relies on community donations, grants and volunteer services.

Volunteers also are a mainstay of the Enrichment Centers, an adjunct of Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals.

"We have 178 volunteers," said director Debbie Walker-Druzbick. "If I didn't have them, I couldn't go to work. We are all volunteer-driven."

The centers added a 10,400-square-foot site this year, known as the Mining Association Enrichment Center, on the grounds of the Quarry Golf Course in Brooksville. It not only encompasses accommodations for programs and services, but administration as well. Also, it is built as a hurricane shelter.

"Now we are more strategically located," Walker-Druzbick said, "for those coming, for instance, out of Pasco County and as far as Inverness.

"It's just amazing, the more space you have, you can bring in more types of things and more people."

The Enrichment Centers offer health lectures, socialization — particularly among seniors who otherwise might just be staring at four walls and the TV — and also late-career counseling, tax preparation assistance, legal aid and various support groups.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

In 2011, new buildings let health agencies offer more, better care 12/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 7:08pm]

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