Sunday, April 22, 2018
Health

Salute to a Suncoast Health Centers visionary

Bradley Herremans has made a career out of helping people get the health care they need. Two careers, actually. He spent 22 years as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Air Force. And now the retired colonel serves as CEO of Suncoast Community Health Centers, which provides health and dental care to many of eastern and southern Hillsborough County's poorest families. Herremans, 52, recently sat down with the Times' Richard Martin to talk about Suncoast's mission, and how his military background helps him carry it out.

How did you come to be involved with Suncoast after a long military career?

I retired as a colonel in the Air Force in 2008. My last assignment was up in Great Falls, Mont., as the commander of the medical unit at Malmstrom Air Force Base. I was getting ready to retire. I had a couple of job offers lined up, in San Antonio, Texas, and then in the Washington, D.C., area. There were also a couple of hospitals I was talking to in Montana. We were in the negotiating phases. I think my wife was getting concerned that I was actually going to accept one of those positions.

During my Air Force career, I was stationed twice at MacDill Air Force Base. My wife always liked the Tampa Bay area. Her goal, once we were coming out of the Air Force, was to move back to Tampa Bay.

I was sitting at the officers club at Malmstrom and I get a phone call from George Hammond. He was working at Suncoast, and he said, "Brad, I'm calling to offer you a job." Then I said, "George, I appreciate that but I honestly don't remember applying for the job."

He said, "Well I have your resume and I have your cover letter, and it looks like you meet all the requirements of what we're looking for." My wife had sent my resume and cover letter to Suncoast Community Health Centers, unbeknownst to me. And he says, "Well, I already talked to Kim (my wife) and she says you'll take the job." I said, "Oh, she did, did she?"

I started here on the first of August 2008 as the chief administrative officer. And I held that position for 2 1/2 years before I became the CEO.

Tell me about Suncoast Community Health Centers.

Suncoast is a federally qualified community health center. We serve the entire community. We don't turn anyone away. We do take some private insurance. Our biggest payer is Medicaid, the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan and some patient pay. We offer a sliding fee scale, based on a family's ability to pay for health care. Suncoast provides primary health care and general dentistry as its core practice. We did just add a pediatric dental clinic to our inventory.

We provide services in eastern and southern Hillsborough County, and we have OB (obstetrics) services in Lakeland. Right now, we have 13 different operational setups that provide some kind of dental or medical services to the community. That includes mobile units.

Tell me about the mobile units.

We have a mobile dental program, which is operated out of a 40-foot RV that has three dental chairs. Everything on it is state of the art. We use it predominantly for preventive dental services for children. We now just completed our second year of participating in a school-based dental sealant program with Hillsborough County schools, where our dentists and hygienists visit second-graders in Title I (low-income) schools. They do a dental exam, provide fluoride varnishes, and also provide dental sealants on teeth that get them into adulthood.

The evidence is tremendous showing the effects of that. What we found is dental issues for the kids are the No. 1 reason children miss school in Hillsborough County. This last year, we saw 5,600 children. These services are provided free to the children.

Tell me about Suncoast's growth during your tenure.

Five years ago, we saw about 25,000 patients. This last year, we saw 44,000. We've grown from four facilities; now we're at 13. We've gone from about 190 employees to 325 right now.

I attribute the growth to a couple of things. The need in the community probably became greater during the recession of 2008-2009. You saw a whole lot more people seeking our services who, prior to that, did not seek our services. The other thing, we made a conscious effort back in 2008 to upgrade and renovate and modernize all of our facilities. We put about $12.5 million into renovating or expanding our facilities. It was a big investment. We wanted anybody to walk into one of our community health centers — even our own employees — and go, "I would be proud to take my own family to this facility for health care." We wanted to change the paradigm of "this is where poor people go for health care" to "this is where the community goes for health care."

What is the biggest challenge with your job, or achieving Suncoast's mission?

Getting the word out in the community of the services available to them. That, by far, is the biggest thing.

How has you military experience helped you in leading Suncoast?

The biggest skill set I probably brought to the table coming out of the service is the ability to develop a strategic plan and then implement it. It gives people a vision of exactly what we're trying to achieve. We develop a mission, a vision, core values that we could all look at it, and develop a three- through five-year plan of goals and objectives that we wanted to follow, and then meet.

Do you live in eastern or southern Hillsborough County?

I live in the historic district in Plant City. I sit on the board of directors for the Plant City Chamber of Commerce, which has just been a wonderful way to get involved in the community. I absolutely love Plant City. It's a small town, a small-town atmosphere, great people, very welcoming. And also still logistically very close to Tampa and Orlando, which are both areas we enjoy.

Weekend Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Richard Martin can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3322.

Comments
Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Public health officials are now telling consumers to avoid all types of romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak linked to the vegetable that has spread to at least 16 states and sickened at least 60 people, including eight inmates at an Alask...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood is expanding its emergency department. The hospital, 7171 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, is spending $17.5 million to add 15 new private treatment rooms, new pediatric rooms and waiting areas, and new technology, acco...
Published: 04/18/18
Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

As she nears death at age 92, former first lady Barbara Bush’s announcement that she is seeking "comfort care" is shining a light — and stirring debate — on what it means to stop trying to fight terminal illness.Bush, the wife of former President Geo...
Published: 04/17/18
Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

When the patient got violent, Dr. Michelle Hidalgo didn’t have time to think. She had to react. The woman was moving strangely and seemed erratic. Hidalgo had to make a tough call — it was time to physically restrain her for everyone’s safety.Then th...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Lung cancer patients live longer with immune therapy

The odds of survival can greatly improve for people with the most common type of lung cancer if, along with the usual chemotherapy, they are also given a drug that activates the immune system, a major new study has shown.The findings should change me...
Published: 04/16/18
Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

Thousands of pounds of prepackaged salad mixes may have been tainted with E. coli, officials say

A Pennsylvania food manufacturer is recalling 8, 757 pounds of ready-to-eat salad products following an E. coli outbreak that has spread to several states and sickened dozens of people.Fresh food Manufacturing Co., based in Freedom, Pennsylvania, is ...
Published: 04/15/18
St. Anthony’s Cancer Center installs bell dedicated to survivors

St. Anthony’s Cancer Center installs bell dedicated to survivors

ST. PETERSBURGSister Mary McNally, vice president of mission at St. Anthony’s Hospital, stood in front of a room of cancer survivors to unveil a silver bell surrounded by butterfly stickers mounted to the wall of the Cancer Center lobby. "So often pe...
Published: 04/13/18
Hand dryers could leave your hands dirtier than you think

Hand dryers could leave your hands dirtier than you think

Washing your hands after you use the bathroom is a good idea. But using a public dryer could undo all that hard work, according to a new study.A study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, examined 36 men’s and women’s bat...
Published: 04/13/18
Meek and Mighty Triathlon draws the young (siblings who are 7, 9 and 11) and not so young

Meek and Mighty Triathlon draws the young (siblings who are 7, 9 and 11) and not so young

The annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon has for years attracted elite athletes from around the world, making the St. Petersburg race one of the premier triathlon events in the country. There’s a big incentive to run fast, swim hard and be the best on a bi...
Published: 04/13/18