In 1970, Pasco didn't have much in the line of medical services. But 20 years and three hospitals later, the county offers an assortment of facilities geared at treating anything from a sore throat to a faulty heart. The medical industry in Pasco continues its surge, trying to keep pace with the swelling demand placed on it by a growing population.
Today, the county has five hospitals, one psychiatric hospital and another expected to open in March. It also has several smaller, independent care centers, some of which specialize in treatment of specific ailments.
To get an idea of the money involved, consider that Pasco's five hospitals had total operating budgets of $157.7-million in 1988, and the 14 nursing homes overseen by the state had operating budgets totaling $24.9-million.
That doesn't include what the county's private physicians and independent care centers generate.
"I would say it's been a tremendous impact. The people who work in the health-care industry in (East Pasco) have increased at least threefold," says Sandra Jones, executive director at Humana Hospital-Pasco in Dade City.
"That means millions of dollars in payroll and millions in income to spend for housing, clothing and food in the community."
2 new facilities in March
Specialists at HCA Bayonet Point/Hudson Medical Center have busily been fixing hearts at a temporary facility that will be replaced by a new building in March.
Since the first week in August, 76 open-heart surgeries and 550 cardiac catheterizations have been performed at the facility, which offers the first open-heart surgical unit in the area.
The HCA Heart Institute, a $7.7-million facility, is expected to perform twice as many open-heart surgeries when the permanent unit opens, says Mary Beth Bowen, the hospital's public relations coordinator.
She said the state's decision to allow a heart institute exemplifies the county's need for such sophisticated services.
"From what we have experienced here, there has been a tremendous demand in the need for various medical services. That is very evident by the fact that since August, we have done nearly 600 cardiac catheterizations, a procedure which until several months ago was not available in Pasco and Hernando counties.
"It's the same thing for open-heart surgery. The reason we got involved in that obviously is that a very big percentage of the patients that were being sent down to Tampa General were from Pasco and Hernando counties," she said.
A major segment of the institute's patients range in age from 50 to 70.
In Central Pasco, another March opening is scheduled for a facility its organizers say is sorely needed.
Charter Hospital in Land O'Lakes will become the first psychiatric hospital in Pasco and Hernando counties to offer services to children, adolescents and adults.
When it opens on March 26, the 72-bed facility also will provide three outpatient counseling centers, one each in New Port Richey, Brooksville and north Hillsborough County.
"There's a great need as there are no specialized psychiatric hospitals in Pasco or Hernando. The growth rate is tremendous. An area's finally coming into its own when it has a need for such highly specialized services as ours," says Miriam Karlin, the hospital's administrator.
Ms. Karlin says her hospital, like the county's other heath-care providers, boosts the area's finances and prestige.
"I am recruiting a series of professionals from outside of the community to live and work in Pasco County, so it will do a lot in terms of raising the resources and pool of professionals also available in the community.
"We've used a lot of local vendors in terms of our printing, our contract services. We're one of the largest employers in the central Pasco area. I think it will have a great effect," she said.
Besides Charter, which will cater to all age groups, Florida Camelot Inc. in Land O'Lakes provides long-term psychiatric services to adolescents.
A noticeable impact
As new services become available, those in the industry say a look back can be somewhat staggering.
"I've been in this area 10 years, and I've seen great change. The number of physicians and the variety of specialties have changed a lot. There was not a cardiologist in east Pasco County 10 years ago, and now there are five," says Humana's Ms. Jones.
"There was not a neurologist, and now there's one. There was not a pulmonologist, and now there are two. That gives you an idea of the number of specialists who have moved into the area."
What is the draw of medical personnel and centers to Pasco?
"We have more population here, so there's enough to support physicians moving into the area. In the past, that might not have been so. There might not have been enough to enable a neurologist to earn a living in the community," says Ms. Jones.
Ms. Jones says her hospital's payroll gives another example of the medical industry's growth in Pasco County.
"This hospital's payroll has gone up from a little over $2-million to around $8-million in 10 years," she says. "The number of employees has tripled."
Tina Strobbe, executive vice president of Gulf Coast Medical Center - which has three facilities in Pasco - says the consumer is the ultimate beneficiary of the activity.
"People have an opportunity for choice," she says. "Medical care is available to them, and now they're looking for quality medical care at affordable prices and convenience. It's giving the patient the opportunity to seek the best."
Health care facilities Facility Number Home-health agencies, Medicare certified 7 Home-health agencies, non-Medicare certified 9 Hospitals 6 Hospital beds 973 Nursing homes 14 Nursing home beds 1,415 Substance abuse facilities 9 Ambulatory surgical centers 5 Clinical laboratories 15 Dialysis centers 4 Abortion clinics 0 Hospices 0 Only some facilities listed; number as of 1989 Source: State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.