U.S. Sen. Connie Mack came to Hacienda Home and declared it to be "the epitome of what's right about America."
Mack was the keynote speaker Wednesday afternoon at the 34th anniversary celebration of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Mental Health Services, the not-for-profit community agency that operates Hacienda Home, a residence for mentally ill adults.
"We need him (Mack) to champion long-term health care," said Michael Bernstein, Gulf Coast's chief executive officer.
The Republican senator, who is up for re-election Nov. 8, took the opportunity to do just that. He praised Gulf Coast's efforts at helping mentally ill patients to get out of hospitals and state institutions and back into life and their own communities.
He compared the work being done here to the "absorption centers" in Israel. Immigrants to the country are taken in, given food, clothing and a place to stay. They also are given a chance to learn the language and acclimate themselves in a new environment.
"I see a similarity (here)," Mack said. "What they are doing is they are providing people with an interim level of support."
Before his talk, Mack also was introduced to several of Gulf Coast's former and present clients.
Ruth Panzner, for example, lived at Hacienda Home for a year after having been diagnosed with severe clinical depression.
"But, the staff here _ they were great," she said. "They helped me out of my depression."
Now, Panzner lives on her own and has become an active volunteer with the Pasco County School Board and a local nursing home.
"I'm real proud of it," she said, smiling. "Between the children and the old people, I do pretty good."
Mack was joined by several local politicians and members of the Gulf Coast organization, including New Port Richey Mayor Peter Altman, Gulf Coast Chairman Dr. David Bernstein, Pasco County commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Ed Collins and Republican State Committeeman John Renke.