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Sun City needs its own hospital
By A Times Editrorial
Published December 12, 2007
Retirees in south Hillsborough County stand to lose if state regulators allow South Bay Hospital to move from the retirement community of Sun City Center to a fast-growing suburb 8 miles north. The Agency for Health Care Administration is expected to announce a decision Friday. While the move would have some pluses - critical care and other services would expand - the new facility would be too far away and hard to access for many retirees. Sun City needs its own hospital.
South Bay, owned by Nashville-based HCA, wants to move its 112-bed hospital in Sun City to Big Bend Road in Riverview. It promises to leave behind a freestanding emergency room and diagnostic services in Sun City. Hospital officials said there is no room to grow on the current 17-acre site, and that the 60-acre campus in Riverview would improve its level of community care. The complex, east of I-75, would include expanded services, such as surgical and cancer treatment, private rooms and more parking. Chief executive officer Stephen Daugherty said the existing facility lacks the space for modern medical equipment and "cannot meet the future needs of this part of the county."
Moving would help the hospital compete for the younger and growing population of south Hillsborough's suburbs. But Sun City has unique and immediate needs. It is the best-known retirement community in the county. Many residents make short trips to the hospital and shops in golf carts because they no longer drive. The community is laid out to reduce the reliance on automobiles.
South Bay said it would offer a shuttle to and from the new hospital, but the reality is that transportation would be a problem. Eight miles is a long way for residents who avoid driving or have no car. The two major roads to the site are busy and increasingly crowded. Many elderly residents avoid driving at night. The issue is not merely convenience, but quick access to a full-fledged medical facility. Even if South Bay and Sun City's volunteer transport squad (which has made more than 6,100 transports already this year) can provide service, the demand will tax their resources and add anxiety to many whose mobility is limited.
No community in Hillsborough has a more acute need for a hospital than Sun City Center. Yet it would be without any inpatient hospital beds should South Bay move. That seems like a high price in exchange for expanding a broader range of services to a younger demographic. Sun City residents also worry that physicians will close their offices and relocate north. These are legitimate concerns that AHCA should recognize. While South Bay has a broader clientele in south Hillsborough to serve, it plays a singular role in caring for the huge elderly community in Sun City.