EAST TAMPA — Maria Luva has taken her children to Tampa General Hospital's pediatric center since the birth of her 8-year-old son Ywlyox.
The Luva family was among the more than 12,300 patients that visited the center last year, where for nearly a decade it operated out of a 4,800-square-foot temporary office.
"It was so small that if I brought both of my kids it was too crowded," Luva said.
Now the pediatric center has relocated to a 13,700-square-foot area that was previously home to Tampa General's Family Care Center, which moved to a new building built next door.
A dirty blue awning in the back of the pediatric center leads families inside to a waiting room replete with a children's play area and wall decorations. The center's new home could still use some work, admits Gisela Gonzalz, a nurse manager who has worked at the center since 2007. She noted, however, that the 10 extra exam rooms more than double the size of the old facility and can accommodate, for example, a family of five with a stroller and still have space for the doctor and an attendant.
"I'm grateful for this," she said. "The intent is to grow pediatrics as a whole."
The new location also will allow for additional services, like surgeries, gastroenterology, neurology, as well as physical, speech and orthopedic therapy.
Dr. Jennifer Takagishi, the center's medical director and a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida, has worked at the center for 16 years. She pointed out that before it moved to the temporary office, the pediatric center was limited to a single hallway of eight exam rooms within the Genesis Women's Center, where mothers can receive prenatal care.
She said that the center serves a vital need in the community.
Many nearby pediatricians can't offer the specialization some families need, or do not accept Medicare, and accessing those services could mean hours on public transportation.
"A lot of our children have special health care needs," Takagishi said. "It comes down to insurance and transportation."
"A lot of people in east Tampa can walk to that facility," said Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick. "You're looking at a lot of low-income individuals."
He said Tampa General should have made the move much sooner to better meet the community's needs.
"Only a limited number of people can be seen in'' the old office, he said. "I was disappointed it took so long for TGH to renovate the facility."
Sharon Ford, director of physician services for Tampa General said that the relocation has been in the works for a couple of years.
"We were realizing it was going to be at the end of its life," she said of the old space. "We wanted to stay kind of in our location since it needs to be on a bus line and easy for patients to get here, but we couldn't find anything that met the needs of our community."
Lactation consultant and office supervisor of 13 years, Dahlia Estien is thrilled with the new digs. She often needed to bring patients into her office to teach them to breast feed. Last month, the center saw 72 mothers with newborns and of those, 43 needed her help. Now she has a large room with big armchairs for mothers to relax, feed their babies and get the support they need.
Yvonne Stafford brought her 16-year-old daughter into the center to get a couple of vaccinations before school began. She had "no complaints" with the old facility, but said that the office itself did not really matter to her.
"You still get the same level of care," Stafford said. "It's a good place."
Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.