Thirty-five years ago, the only place that migrant farmworkers could turn for health care, was the County Health Department.In 1977, a conglomeration of people in Southern Hillsborough County became concerned about migrant health care. This group incorporated and the Ruskin Migrant and Community Health Center was born. The first CEO was Lil Serrano and was succeeded by Ann Russell, two dedicated women that provided excellent leadership and convinced the community of the need for healthcare for all.
The first Ruskin Clinic started in a trailer, behind the health department, with one doctor, one nurse and one medical assistant. This dedicated group of medical professionals worked long hours for little or no compensation, other than knowing that they were filling a serious need in the community. The roof leaked, the a/c rarely worked and there were holes in the wall and the plaster was falling down. There was never any privacy, but still the patients came. Shortly after, the Dover Health Clinic was set up in a small trailer in Dover, Fl., which they quickly outgrew.
In May, 1981, the center got its real start with funding from the Migrant Health and Rural Health initiative – these were two federal grants that were administered through Health and Human Services. This initiative opened the doors of the Ruskin Health Center to other people in the community, who otherwise would not have been able to receive health care. This included indigents, minority populations and low-income families. A large focus at the time, was providing pre-natal and follow-up care to the moms and babies. For a while, it was the "best-kept secret" in Southern Hillsborough County. Many folks questioned if it was staffed with "real doctors" and others thought you had to be a migrant farmworker to receive services. In reality, the center's staff was growing and was comprised of well-educated medical professionals. Healthcare services were made available to anyone, regardless of race or financial status. Sliding Fee discounts were offered based on the income of the patient. In the early days, an office visit ranged from $2.00 - $5.00 and a full-term delivery cost $350. And patients kept coming.
The Dover trailer, quickly outgrew itself and soon a home was purchased on Martin Luther King Blvd., in Dover, that had to be renovated 3 times, to keep up with the clinic's growth. In the mid-1980's, a contract was negotiated with Hillsborough County to accept Medicaid , which contributed to the rapid growth. In 1995, Dover was at capacity and what is now Plant City Family Care, was born. Once again, the clinic was provided with one doctor, one nurse and two nurse practitioners. Then, in order to accurately reflect the changes the organization was experiencing, Ruskin Migrant and Community Health Center became Suncoast Community Health Centers, Inc. in 1993.
As Plant City Family Care continued expanding in 2003, it's satellite office, Suncoast Pediatrics "Pediville', entered the community, providing healthcare services for adolescents from birth to 18 years of age.
About this time, the clinic was feeling the financial "pinch" of growth and limited resources and wisely elected Mr. Brantz Roszel, as CEO. Mr. Roszel was the CFO for Suncoast for the previous 8 years and was a member of Suncoast's Board of Directors prior to his employment. With sixteen years experience in the community health center arena, and a background as a CPA, he was able to get the company back on stable ground and not long after, with the help of state and county government, in June 2008, Tom Lee Community Health Center replaced the Dover Clinic, boasting over 20,000 square feet of state of the art medical and dental facilities, providing comprehensive health care services.
In 2010, Suncoast was fortunate to receive grant funding for the purchase of a Mobile Dental Coach. This 37' vehicle, is a dental clinic on wheels, boasting 3 operatories and state of the art equipment. The Coach travels all over the county, providing dental care to patients that would otherwise not have received services.
In 2011, Ruskin Health Center, underwent expansion and renovation, in order to modernize facilities and increase space, modeled after the Tom Lee Center. This renovation resulted in a stunning facility that has allowed us to increase patient care in the Ruskin and Sun City area.
Another signficant development in 2011, was the addition of Joyce Ely Community Health Center in Ruskin and Women and Children Community Health Center in Plant City, former Department of Health Clinics. When the DOH was being closed, Suncoast agreed to establish care with their patients, focusing on Pediatric and Women's Care. At the time of this writing, Women and Children CHC patients' are being moved to our Plant City locations, as the building is being closed.
Also in 2011, Brandon Community Health Center, joined the SCHC family. This clinic provides OB care to the families of Brandon and surrounding areas.
Soon after, Plant City Family Care underwent a renovation, much like Ruskin, increasing space and modernizing faciilties, whiile adding Pharmacy and X-ray to it's previously established services. They opened their newly renovated doors to the community in April 2012.
The Suncoast staff has grown from one doctor, one nurse and one medical assistant to approximately 250 employees. Most staff are bilingual, which offers another huge advantage in caring for our patient population. Most of our managers and directors have been employees since the early years and speak with pride about the evolution of the health center. Further testimony to the need in this community, is reflected in our statistics. Last year, Suncoast Community Health Center serviced over 30,000 patients in over 126,000 + visits.
In 2011, Mr. Roszel announced his retirement, after many years of valuable service. Looking toward the future, leadership of Suncoast will continue to be run by a volunteer Board of Directors, which is comprised of prominent community leaders and users of the center with varying expertise. Suncoast feels this leadership, keeps them in line with following their Mission. Mr. Bradley Herremans, became CEO, after serving since 2008 as Chief Administrative Officer. As a former Air Force Colonel charged with the administration of healthcare services, he sees this position as the next step in his career. He brings with him a vision to continue to expand health and dental services to the entire community, regardless of income and feels we will be ready to face the newest healthcare challenges, facing this country today. Plans for 2012 include the addition of mental heath services and the opening of two more clinics.
Suncoast Community Health Center has seen many changes over the last thirty five years. What has remained a constant however, is the pride and dedication that is felt, by all staff that have passed through these halls. Most are honored to be part of the outstanding patient care that is delivered and many feel, that it is "their lives, not just a job". A common feeling among staff, is that "they don't feel they've given half as much as they have received". This can be seen daily, by viewing the grateful expression on our patients faces, and knowing that without the community health center, their healthcare needs would not be addressed. Some patients are barely able to pay, but the reward here, is in knowing that we have provided the opportunity for members of our community, to have a place they can receive the health and dental care they deserve.