Blossoming of new medical residency programs boosts Manatee County's health

July 28, 2013 

Manatee County is blessed with a forward-thinking health care community determined to improve the wellbeing of citizens. Another one of the key findings in the detailed 2008 State of Health Care System in Manatee study will be addressed with a ground-breaking development in the mental health care arena.

Two of county's premier health care providers, Manatee Glens and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, will join forces to launch a psychiatry residency program. This unique partnership, announced just days ago, will provide an avenue not only for residents to complete their studies and training, expand mental health services to the community and ultimately help alleviate the doctor shortage as the majority of residents remain in the region in which they train.

Manatee Memorial Hospital began building a residency program for osteopathic physicians soon after the 2008 study recommended the county follow that course of action to recruit young doctors, especially family practitioners. The first class of young medical residents -- from around the country and world -- enrolled in 2011.

This July, Manatee Memorial welcomed a class of 30 medical school graduates in family practice or internal medicine into its three-year residency program.

The hospital's chief executive officer, Kevin DiLallo, addressed the pivotal point behind the program then: "We hope that some, if not all, will stay in the community after they have finished their programs and make Manatee County their home."

Blake Medical Center is also developing a residency program, targeting a 2015 opening. For a community that lacked any such medical assets just a few years ago, this is a significant achievement.

Overall, Florida's doctor shortage remains acute, especially with primary care physicians. One reason is the state lacks a sufficient number of residency programs to accommodate graduating doctors. Many leave the state, never to return.

A physician recruiting gift fell into Southwest Florida's lap in the form of rankings of the top cities for family practice doctors. The Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port region garnered the top spot in the country in ratings by a national consumer finance website. ValuePenguin examined 300 metropolitan areas and tabulated average physician salaries, the concentration of doctors and the cost of living -- with the goal of informing doctors where opportunities are they might not have considered.

This ranking should be a boon to Manatee County's efforts to recruit physicians.

The Manatee Glens-LECOM partnership is a major coup for the county. With one of only seven osteopathic psychiatry residency programs in the country, Manatee Glens will be positioned to greatly improve mental health care here.

The private, nonprofit behavioral health hospital employs a medical staff of only 17. Once the residency program opens next summer and grows from the initial three residents to a dozen in a few years, Manatee Glens will be able to expand services. Currently serving some 15,000 patients a year, the additional help from psychiatric residents will ease the pressure, too.

The hospital's chief executive and president, Mary Ruiz, cited the Manatee Chamber Foundation's 2008 study as the impetus for the new residency program. She also stated: "Not only are we meeting the community's needs, we're putting the community on the national map."

Kudos to Manatee Glens and LECOM for this valuable addition to mental health services. And to Manatee Memorial and Blake for creating other opportunities to advance medical care.

This will help achieve the 2008 study's overarching goal: By recruiting more doctors and improving health care, the county's quality of life receives a boost.

As the medical community grows, the business sector takes note and companies find the region more attractive. Thus, economic development follows.

In the meantime, we appreciate the progress that residency programs will bring in the county's wellbeing.

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