It's taken nearly 14 years for the vision to come true, but the Hernando County Health Department finally has a permanent home on the west side of the county.
Beginning Monday, clients needing primary health and dental care and other support services through the county will be able to receive them at a new 57,000-square-foot clinic on Forest Oaks Boulevard.
Completion of the facility couldn't come too soon, said longtime Health Department administrator Elizabeth Callaghan. For years, the department's approximately 80 health care professionals and administrative staffers have been spread among two rented buildings — one in the Westside Government Center and the other near the Hernando County Airport — that offered limited space and comfort, plus its main office near downtown Brooksville.
Having west-side operations in one more spacious place will greatly improve service to clients, Callaghan said.
"It's going to make it easier for us to work as a team," she said. "The facility is very user friendly, and that will allow us to serve our clients much more efficiently."
Back in the mid 1990s, the west side of the county was seeing rapid growth, with a population that included many retirees and low-income families with little or no insurance. Meeting the health needs of those residents was an ever-growing challenge that county health officials knew they had to meet.
After the Hernando department spent 10 years on a waiting list, the state Legislature finally awarded the county $14 million in 2008 to build a comprehensive facility in which to house primary adult and pediatric health and dental services, behavioral health counseling, education services, environmental health, vital statistics and administrative services.
Callaghan said that while the building is a welcome asset to her agency, its opening comes at a time of substantial belt-tightening within the department. The loss of $800,000 in state and federal subsidies and other grants caused the department to eliminate 10 full-staff positions last week. They were the first layoffs the department has had to make in 30 years.
Callaghan said the cutbacks were strategically planned to avoid eliminating vital services to clients.
"Our goal was to find a way to spread our resources so there would be minimal impact," she said. "It's absolutely going to be a big change, but we'll get by."
Designed by renowned architect Peter Ikegami, who has designed several medical centers in the Florida, the new structure is considered a state-of-the-art facility with energy-saving features such as LED lighting systems that will substantially reduce operating costs.
The first floor will house primary health care services for adults, infants and children, as well as the county's vital statistics department. Located on the second floor will be dental services, environmental health and administration.
Said Callaghan: "We've been waiting so long to be able to have a permanent location where we'll be able to provide quality services in a central location. It's an asset that will continue to gain value as we head into the future."
The Spring Hill location will have its grand opening Oct. 29. It will include an opening ceremony and tours for the public.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.