BRANDON — Amid a handful of medical care centers popping up in the Brandon area, the newly built Suncoast Community Health Center of Brandon aims to stand out with a focus on pediatric dentistry.
The 32,000-square-foot facility on Lakewood Drive had a soft opening in March, boasting of multifaceted divisions of women's health and adult primary care.
But Suncoast Community Health Centers' CEO Bradley Herremans points to the Pediatric Center of Excellence which includes a pediatric dentistry residency program, adolescent behavioral health care and pediatric optometry as keys for the facility.
"We've been going to Head Start programs and RCMA (Redlands Christian Migrant Association) programs for years so we'd been doing services for the kids and what we started finding out was that it was very difficult to get a referral for these children for pediatric dentistry," Herremans said. "We tried to refer to pediatric dentists in the area and there were some that took Medicaid, but their capacity in what they could take was really limited. They could only take three or four patients and we had like 950 on a waiting list."
After partnering with New York University to start a pediatric dental residency program at their Palm River location, Herremans discovered that the need far outgrew the facility and the decision to move to a larger, more centralized location was made to accommodate all of their patients in surrounding areas of Dover, Ruskin and Plant City.
In separate conversations, Herremans recalls teaming with Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman to push for integration of behavioral health into primary care.
"When I was in the Air Force doing health care there we saw it on the adult level and the children's level, too, that we were having a lot of patients that were coming in for primary care and we were finding that about 30 or 35 per cent of the time, these diagnoses were almost like a secondary diagnosis to a behavioral or mental health discussion that nobody was addressing," Herremans said. "So you'd take care of the medical aspect of it, but if you don't take care of the root cause, many times you're just going to end up in the same situation down the road or even worse."
With a high need for affordable care in these departments, particularly for low-income and migrant families, Suncoast Community Health decided that convenience of a one-stop-shop would help the entire community.
"We thought, 'Okay, well, we're integrating our primary care doctors and our behavioral specialists so why don't we add to that pediatric dentistry? Let's put that all under one roof and let's see what happens,'" Herremans said. "I'll tell you right now at least initially, the results are absolutely amazing. We're getting very good feedback from the parents and we're getting very good feedback from the practitioners here."
In the first two weeks of being open, the pediatric dentistry program had approximately 80 patients — nearly double the amount of regular patients seen at the Palm River location.
For clinic administrator Christina Castillo, a seven-year employee of Suncoast Community Health Centers, having a unique set of services under one roof, including having five Affordable Care enrollment specialists on-site, makes a world of difference in how they can better serve eastern Hillsborough.
"We are patient centered and take the extra mile to help our patients get the care they need and deserve," Castillo said. "A family consists of various age ranges. Our care focuses on each of these stages in one location."
Looking ahead, Suncoast Community Health believes that Brandon will remain the best, and most centralized location to provide their multiple services. There is potential to expand into Thonotosassa and Wimauma, but for now the focus and excitement surrounds the new Brandon location, which celebrates its grand opening April 21.
"It is rewarding to be able to offer the community these services under one roof," said Castillo. "We take pride in the services we offer and I find it very rewarding to see patients get more than what they expected from our team."
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at [email protected]