RUSKIN — It started in a trailer in 1977, catering largely to migrant farm workers.
Thirty-four years later, the Suncoast Community Health Center in Ruskin has grown into a state-of-the-art clinic intended to appeal to people of all incomes and walks of life.
A yearlong expansion and remodeling of the Ruskin facility ended in October, adding 7,000 square feet to the 14,000-square-foot building.
The $3.8 million expansion came courtesy of a federal stimulus grant. It more than doubled the number of patient examination rooms, from 15 to 34. It also provided new patient waiting areas, an expanded pharmacy and four new dental chairs.
Along with the expansion, patient records have gone from paper to electronic charts. A robotic medicine dispenser in the pharmacy is capable of filling 60 different types of commonly prescribed drugs, reducing the chance of human error.
The facility will continue to offer pediatric, obstetrics and gynecology services, along with dentistry, family medicine and social services referrals, clinic officials said. Also housed there are a radiology department and laboratory, allowing patients to receive diagnostic testing in the same facility, often on the same day as their physical exam.
Best of all, said office manager Betsy Martinez, the facility now looks the part of an upscale health center intended to cater to everybody.
"Before it was the migrant clinic," said Martinez, who has worked at the center for 28 years. "We wanted to change the reputation. This is not the clinic just for people who are indigent. It is the community clinic."
Though the center will continue to assist low-income residents with applying for Medicaid or Hillsborough County's indigent health care program, it is stepping up efforts to meet the medical needs of people whose income exceeds the poverty level but is not high enough for them to pay for needed health care, Martinez said.
In some cases, patients may have no health insurance or may have employer-subsidized insurance but can't meet the deductible or copayments. Suncoast charges fees based on a sliding scale according to income.
"They can come to us, and we offer them a payment plan," Martinez said. For those who have it, the center also accepts many major insurance programs.
Sonia Goodwin, Suncoast's chief administrative officer, said the clinic treats about 200 patients and fills about 300 prescriptions daily. The number of patient visits has steadily increased, from 30,300 in 2007 to a projected 32,200 this year.
"If we were not here, a lot of people would not have health care," Goodwin said.
She said Suncoast, perched on the western edge of Sun City Center, also hopes to appeal to Medicare patients from the retirement community and military veterans who have health care benefits.
Marilyn Frisbie of Ruskin used the clinic in years past, then stopped for a time and recently returned during the renovations. She said wait times have been reasonable, and she has recommended the clinic to other family members.
"I love it," she said of the modern look. "It reminds you of a doctor's office like the ones in Brandon."
Frisbie said her daughter, a college student with no insurance, recently paid about $40 for an exam and prescription medicine. A private doctor was going to charge her $90 for the same service.
Suncoast has clinics across eastern Hillsborough, including Brandon, Plant City and Dover. One of three clinics in Plant City is undergoing a 3,000-square-foot expansion, expected to be completed in March, Goodwin said.
The nonprofit organization recently took over operations at two clinics previously run by the Hillsborough branch of the Florida Department of Health, one in Ruskin and one in Plant City.
Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.