Dr. Robert George and Ron Berezniak were the vanguard.
In October 2003, the two moved into ComCenter 70 at 6150 S.R. 70 E., representatives of something called LECOM.
At the time, the Bradenton Herald also had offices in ComCenter, and we quickly became friends with George and Berezniak, as well as others in the building, which seemed to have everything from legal to health care offices. That’s where I met my CPA, who still does my taxes.
Being journalists, we were especially intrigued by the arrival of LECOM, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and its plans to launch a campus at Lakewood Ranch.
Dr. George is the best ambassador anyone could ever have. The man positively gives off a glow of kindness and good cheer. It makes you feel good to be around him. We would always be astonished at how upbeat he was and how fast this brand-new concept was becoming a reality.
It sort of felt like we were under the same roof with a human dynamo.
In less than a year, LECOM opened its doors on an 18-acre site just north of Lakewood Ranch High School. It literally seemed to blow in during one of the most active hurricane seasons in years. Hurricane Charley had bashed its way through the state less than a month before LECOM’s opening.
In subsequent years, LECOM grew to full enrollment and added a school of pharmacy.
On Friday, LECOM officials rolled out their plans for a new dental school to open in 2012.
LECOM has been very good news for the area from both a health care and an economic standpoint.
The original LECOM facility was estimated to cost $25 million.
LECOM announced Friday that it is prepared to invest $52 million in the new dental college, to be built just north of the current college.
I ran into John McKay, former president of the Florida Senate, at the press conference announcing the dental college.
McKay, a Bradenton resident, after whom the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program is named, said the importance of LECOM to Manatee civic and economic life cannot be over-estimated.
McKay mentioned that LECOM, which already provides medical care to some of the most downtrodden, including the homeless who are served by the Bill Galvano One-Stop Center, will now also tend to the dental needs of some who are going without.
Dental clinics staffed by faculty and students will be able to treat as many as 600 students a day, LECOM officials said Friday. That’s not taking business away from anyone. These are people who aren’t getting any type of dental care currently.
The new dean who was introduced Friday, Dr. Robert Hirsch, called the lack of care to a large under-served population a “silent epidemic.”
Manatee County can be happy, indeed, to have this good corporate citizen in its midst.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021