Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A handful of Tampa Bay doctors still make house calls


Dr. Benjamin Mena wants a doctor's black bag, specifically the one his physician father carried. Maybe Dad will bring it on his next visit to Tampa. It would complete the picture — a picture from the past, one that Norman Rockwell might have painted. Dr. Mena, you see, makes house calls. They aren't a mainstay of Mena's newly launched internal medicine practice, and he restricts the visits to a few elderly patients within a short distance of his South Tampa office. But the 41-year-old physician says he plans to set aside one afternoon a week for house calls no matter how busy his schedule becomes.

"It's always been my dream to do this,'' says Mena, a native of Honduras who has been practicing in the United States for a decade. "My grandfather was a general practitioner in the '30s in a medium-sized city back in Honduras. So he was the guy who would go and deliver your baby, and then go see the baby next door, and go suture you. He did everything.''

Physician house calls, once common in America's farm communities and small towns, may seem as rare these days as phrenologists. But visits to elderly patients, at least, have been increasing each year, according to the American Academy of Home Care Physicians. In 2009, Medicare reimbursed physicians for more than 2.3 million house calls nationwide. In 2005, reimbursements totaled 2.1 million; in 2002, the figure was 1.7 million.

The need will increase as America ages, the academy notes. The population of Americans in their mid 80s — a time when many become homebound — is rapidly growing, says Constance Row, executive director of the physicians organization. At the same time, the number of general practitioners and geriatric specialists is shrinking, so Row says her colleagues hope more doctors start making house calls.

A few other Tampa Bay area physicians make house calls, among them Dr. Radley Griffin, also of South Tampa. Griffin says that some weeks, his practice takes him on as many as 20 house calls. He does not accept health insurance, charging $100 for office visits and $200 for house calls.

Dermatologist Seth Forman, who has offices in Carrollwood and downtown Tampa, visits people at assisted living centers. He brings a nurse along and sees up to 10 patients, he says.

Mena's home patients are all in their 90s, and all have difficulty getting around. Most found out about the service through their children or other relatives who visit Mena at his office. He does not charge extra for house calls.

"I think everybody's very appreciative, but mostly everybody's surprised. It's very unexpected.''

His most convenient call is at Jewish Central Towers on DeLeon Street, close to his office. On a recent sunny day, the doctor grabbed a blood pressure monitor, walked a block, rode the elevator up and knocked on the door of Prudence Breijo, 92, whom he recently treated for acid reflux disease.

"My stomach is so good,'' Breijo tells him. "The medicine you sent me is gold!''

Mena sits in Breijo's electric scooter while she settles into a big easy chair. She tells him how to set the controls to secure the scooter, suggesting it has a mind of its own.

"Anybody that touches it, it moves. It's a monster.''

Mena checks her blood pressure, listens to her heart, looks over her pills and checks her legs, noting that the swelling has gone down.

"The monster hit me,'' she says. When she got the scooter last year, she tried to back it up but sent it forward instead, smashing her legs into the coffee table. She spent four days in the hospital.

A doctor at the hospital recommended she call Mena. "He'll come to see you,'' he told her.

"So that's what I did.''

Walking back to his office, Mena says some old-school doctors applaud him for going to see his elderly patients. Other doctors question the business sense of it, as the time Mena spends traveling to house calls is time spent not making money.

To Mena, it's an emotional paycheck.

"I find it rewarding.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]

A handful of Tampa Bay doctors still make house calls 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe


    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]
  2. Editorial: Trump uses Americans' health care as bargaining chip


    Unable to persuade Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump appears determined to do the dirty work himself. The president's unilateral actions are aimed at driving up premiums, steering healthy people away from the federal marketplace and ensuring his inaccurate description of the law as a …

    Unable to persuade Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump appears determined to do the dirty work himself.
  3. Port Richey fire chief charged with DUI, hitting a cop in the face


    PORT RICHEY — The Port Richey fire chief crashed a motorcycle, showed signs of impairment and hit a New Port Richey police officer in the face after being taken to the hospital Sunday night, according to a police report.

    A screenshot from the web site of Little Corona's Cigar Lounge, owned by Port Richey Fire Chief Timothy Fussell, who was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and battery on a law enforcement officer Sunday night.
  4. Trump: Cuba 'is responsible' for attacks on U.S. personnel


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he believes Cuba "is responsible" for attacks on American government personnel in Havana.

    President Donald Trump answers questions as he speaks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., in the rose Garden after their meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington. [Associated Press]
  5. Sports anchor Tom Korun leaving WFTS after decades in Tampa Bay TV


    WFTS ABC Action News sports anchor and director Tom Korun is retiring from broadcasting after more than 14 years at the station and 31 years on Tampa Bay TV screens.

    Tom Korun is retiring after 31 years on Tampa Bay television.