Center will alleviate shortage of pediatric care in Charlotte


CHARLOTTE COUNTY — A local shortage of pediatricians is driving parents to Sarasota and Lee counties in search of medical care for their children.

But starting today, more parents will be able to find care in the community when the Charlotte County Health Department opens its new pediatric clinic.

The clinic will be able to handle about 30 patients a day and will be open to any family, regardless of their insurance status or financial situation. Payment will be collected on a sliding scale.

“All of our physicians are pretty overwhelmed with the volume of patients coming in, and not being able to see them all,” said J. David McCormack, chief executive officer of Peace River Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda. He said the clinic will go a long way toward alleviating that strain.

For years, social service providers and health care workers in Charlotte felt a glaring need for more pediatric care, but it was not until this summer that they had the data to prove it.

Julia Pfaff, a master’s degree candidate at Drexel University, studied the ratio of children in Charlotte County to pediatricians and family practitioners. She found that Charlotte lagged well behind other places in the state.

“It really seemed to validate what we thought we knew, that there just was no place for our kids to go,” said Donna Olson, nursing director for the Charlotte County Department of Health.

For every licensed pediatrician or family practice physician, there were 553 patients under age 15 statewide in 2005. In Charlotte, there were 695 patients for each pediatrician or family physician.

Pfaff projected that the number of pediatric patients to physicians would rise to 715 this year and to 753 by 2010.

The information inspired social service agencies, hospital directors and pediatricians in the county to start the pediatric clinic.

By pooling resources, they hired Nora Davis, who started a pediatric clinic in Hillsborough County and has been practicing pediatric nursing for 17 years.

As a nurse practitioner, Davis’ presence will not improve the ratio of children to pediatric doctors in the county, but it will at least expand qualified care for children, Olson said.

Davis is able to diagnose medical problems, write prescriptions and teach parents the skills they need to maintain their children’s health.

She will also work closely with pediatric doctors and area hospitals.

“It will definitely help people who don’t have the transportation to go outside the county,” said Nancy Kraus, director of the county Healthy Start Coalition, which is part of a state program aimed at reducing infant mortality.

Kraus has told many parents on Medicaid that their only option for pediatric care was a federally funded clinic in Fort Myers or the health department in Sarasota County.

Finding care is more difficult for parents on Medicaid, because the government-run insurance program does not reimburse physicians for the full cost of their care.

Most practices limit the number of Medicaid patients they see.

Only three pediatricians in the county are accepting new Medicaid patients, and they only accept infants who are signed up before birth.

The lack of pediatric care funnels parents to the county’s emergency rooms to seek treatments for their children’s nonemergency ear aches and sore throats.

McCormack said the problem is evident at all the county’s emergency rooms. He is optimistic the clinic will help.

Kraus and Olson hope the clinic will also prompt parents to bring their children in for routine checkups.

Checkups are important for keeping tabs on developmental milestones, such as being able to sit up, and to catch problems, such as poor vision or hearing issues, early.

“Whatever you do in a proactive way to maintain the health of your child is certainly going to help them keep from getting sick in the future, or developing chronic health issues,” Kraus said.
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