City of Health

By staff March 1, 2002

Somewhere in Sarasota tonight, a doctor will worry about a patient he admitted to the hospital several hours earlier complaining of a cough and chest pains. Preliminary tests were inconclusive, and it will be hours before the radiology department will receive the X-rays that will allow further diagnosis.

Finally, around midnight, the doctor will get a phone call telling him the X-rays are ready. He'll enter a dimly lit room and pour over fresh images of the patient's congested lungs. What he won't see-until it's too late-is the sight of his cat leaping over a glass of milk on its way to the doctor's freshly cut turkey sandwich, leaving a trail of papers across the living room and spilling everything onto his home computer keyboard.

It's a minor inconvenience for the doctor, who's probably just finished a 10-hour shift and prefers to mop up a minor spill at home to waiting hours at the hospital to view completed radiology reports. Instead of scolding the cat, he'll simply click back on the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Internet Web site, which is testing the new and exciting $28-million digital imaging system that allows him to view your X-ray at his home or office any time of the day or night.

Such innovations are what you'd least expect to find in a resort area devoid of teaching hospitals. But that's the beauty of Sarasota. This pretty paradise of theater, opera and sun-bleached beaches is also home to a thriving medical community that boasts some of the country's most renowned researchers and institutions. Our quality of life blends with cutting-edge technologies to create a place too attractive for many medical professionals to pass up.

That's good news for those of us living on the coast, because as Sarasota's population swells, so does its ranks of medical practitioners. According to the Florida Department of Health, there are 1,211 medical doctors in Sarasota County. There are also 48 podiatrists, 314 dentists, 206 chiropractors and 71 optometrists.

Nearly 100 licensed dieticians and nutritionists and 23 athletic trainers keep our fabulous Florida bodies in shape, while 393 physical therapists help us recover from beach volleyball, surfing and tennis injuries. Some 600 psychologists, marriage, family and mental health therapists help keep us happy and together.

To satisfy spiritual and holistic longings, Sarasota offers 101 acupuncturists, 1,332 massage therapists and 3 naturopathic physicians. In case you're follic-ly over-endowed, just see one of our 16 licensed electrologists.

Sarasota also has an array of choices for mothers. In 2000 (the most recent year for which figures are available) 2,719 babies were born in Sarasota County. Most were attended by physicians, but a surprising number came into the world with midwives. Besides state-of-the-art birthing facilities at Doctors Hospital and Sarasota Memorial, the city has a range of alternative services as more and more medical doctors incorporate midwives and doulas into their practices (see the December 2001 issue for more information about doulas).

Sarasota's hospitals continue to keep pace with the finest medical institutions in the country by participating in groundbreaking clinical research and recruiting medical professionals. Sarasota Memorial is one of only a handful of Florida hospitals offering heart mapping, an advanced diagnostic procedure only recently approved by the FDA. By creating a 3-D picture of the heart, the procedure can reveal damaged areas that would benefit from heart bypass. It also ranks among the top 100 hospitals in the nation for hip and knee replacements.

Cancer patients, especially those with prostate cancers, are flocking to Sarasota, as the city builds a reputation as an international treatment center. The Dattoli Cancer Center is the first private facility in America to offer intensity-modulated radiation, the most advanced beam technology available today. Since opening in early 2001, three quarters of its patient load has come from outside the Tampa Bay area, 10 percent from outside the country.

The cancer program at Doctors Hospital is one of 1,400 health care facilities certified by the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer, and its emergency chest pain center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by board-certified emergency physicians.

In Bradenton, Blake Medical Center has been a "Top 100" hospital for the past five years. It was the first hospital in Florida and the third in the nation to receive OSHA's voluntary protection merit award, and it has one of the country's top ICU units.

Each of these institutions maintains programs to lure doctors in the top of their fields. According to Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokesperson Mike Vizvary, many flock to Sarasota straight out of college and research programs. "They're coming because of the technology," he says. "Especially the younger doctors, who are very impressed with our equipment."

And even with a national nursing shortage, Sarasota's nursing totals are far above state and national averages, adds Vizvary. (Overall, Sarasota has 5,928 registered nurses-300 more than last year's figures-and 2,730 LPNs -100 more than last year.) Vizvary says vacancy rates at Sarasota Memorial fell from nearly 14 percent to just over nine percent last year, an achievement he attributes to "nurse-to-nurse" marketing and financial incentives (the hospital offers $1,000 referral bonuses when new staff comes on board). They also provide tuition reimbursement for bachelor's and master's degree preparation.

Seniors fare especially well here. At Doctors Hospital, people 50 years or older who pay a small, yearly membership fee receive special VIP hospital privileges and can participate in free health screenings, discount programs and fitness classes. The Senior Friendship Center offers adult day care for frail seniors and those suffering from Alzheimer's. The Friendship Center's health center, staffed by retired licensed volunteer physicians, nurses and technicians, enables those 55 years or older and on a limited income to receive regular exams and some medical treatment. Fees are assessed on a sliding scale according to ability to pay.

In addition, the city is home to centers of nationally recognized research. The Urology Treatment Center is currently whether oral medicines can safely help prevent or delay the recurrence of superficial bladder cancer. The Sarasota Arthritis Center is evaluating the effectiveness of a medication designed to alleviate osteoarthritis pain in the knee and hip, and ICSL Clinical Studies has conducted more than 130 research studies since opening its doors eight years ago.

A variety of rehabilitation systems treat victims of stroke, accidents, brain and spinal cord injuries and orthopedic problems. Sub-acute facilities and nursing homes are abundant, fully staffed and of high quality, and seniors have a great selection of long-term nursing and assisted-living facilities.

Surrounded by such a wealth of medical expertise and innovation, local residents can enjoy their pick of professionals and technologies in a city truly devoted to the health and welfare of its citizenry.

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