With Sarasota’s aging population1 healthcare and its ancillary industry, assisted living, will become more and more important to more and more of our neighbors as we continue into the century. We’re all living a lot longer, and we’re all going to need help doing it.
But there is a real question about whether that help will be available to all of us here on the Suncoast: two questions, really. Will a combination of high healthcare premiums and projected Medicare shortfalls push healthcare out of the budgets of workers and retirees living on fixed incomes? More important, even if there is affordable health insurance, will the local economy support the healthcare professionals and services we all need (or will need) to provide us necessary wellness and medical care?
What does this mean for you?
The real face of healthcare gets lost among the talking heads debating public options, co-ops, and pre-existing conditions. That face is yours. Will you end up standing in lines (or lying on a gurney), waiting for attention? How will you pay for that surgery/therapy you need? The health insurance reform movement sorting itself out in Washington, DC will have a dramatic impact—one way or another—on the employer/employee/provider relationship. How will it affect you?
Businesses in the Sarasota area pay over 50 percent of all health insurance premiums. Most of our full-time workforce is covered by some sort of employer funded (sometimes 100%) healthcare network of HMOs, PPOs, insurance, etc. Even the small businesses and one-person companies that make up 80 percent of greater Sarasota businesses can take advantage of a partnership between The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and The Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System that has provided affordable health insurance to the community since 2004. These businesses keep enough coverage in the system to maintain the healthcare workforce we currently have. As long as our local businesses succeed, the premiums they pay will insure that we all have a large and accessible body of healthcare professionals.
On the other hand, health and wellness mean business in the Sarasota community. The Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System (SMHCS) is the third largest employer in the Sarasota community, after government (including the schools) and our neighborhood Publix Super Markets. The total healthcare workforce in our community is 38,000 (with 4,000 at SMHCS alone) and a total annual payroll in excess of $31 million.2
Aging in Place
Some of us came to the gulfcoast to stay. Some of us may not have support systems like family—either here or in other places—to look after us. Some of us are unable to relocate because of economic factors as we grow older. Most of us who fit into one of these categories will stay in our homes as we grow older. Those of us who fit this description are said to be aging in place. We will need not only healthcare services, but also transportation services, services to remodel and retrofit our homes for access and mobility, and a variety of personal services.
Fortunately, those of us in the Sarasota community who will age in place will do so within reach of one of the best healthcare and wellness services networks in the world. Our community boasts not only the SMHCS, Doctors’ Hospital, the Venice Regional Hospital, and other care centers but also the Dattoli Cancer Center & Brachytherapy Research Institute, the Southeastern Spine Center & Research Institute, the Roskamp Institute, the Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute, the Institute for the Ages, and other research and service facilities that are discovering the next cure or the next therapy for the very afflictions that we will experience as we age.
But the actuarial tables and workforce studies for this region agree—as more of us get older we’re going to need a lot more healthcare workers and professionals in the future—some project up to a 50% increase in the next three years. So it’s not enough for us not to drive away our current healthcare cadre; we have to attract more of them to the region, and fast.
Or we have to educate and train our own and keep them here—reverse the brain drain the Sarasota community has been experiencing for years. There are a number of local agencies, colleges, schools, and businesses that are putting together degree programs, training courses, and certification processes to help meet this need.
And we have competition. Nearly every other community in the United States is projecting shortages of health professionals—physicians, nurses, physician’s assistants, medical records transcriptionists, emergency medical technicians, etc.—for years to come. If the Sarasota community is to retain and attract the doctors, nurses, and staff that we need to attend to us as we get older, we have to make this an attractive place to live.
You + Business = Healthcare
To attract healthcare professionals—to attract any significant professional workforce—Sarasota has to address some quality of life issues. It’s a fact that educated people such as those in the healthcare professions seek out places with vibrant arts and cultural environments. They gravitate to places with a variety of personal services, shopping, and entertainment options. They require choices in the foods they can purchase, the clothes they can buy, and the activities they can enjoy. Beautiful as they are, our beaches won’t be enough.
We must have a thriving and healthy population of businesses—small and large—to accommodate the richly variegated tastes and needs of the healthcare and wellness professionals we need to attract.
What can you do?
Buy local. Floridians spend an estimated $11.2 billion on-line.3 That’s a lot of money to be exporting. If we want to keep a healthy community, we need to re-focus our commercial activity. Although we don’t have as many as we once did, we still have wonderful shops, services, dealers, and stores to supply your needs for food and drink, apparel, appliances, cars, electronics, and housewares at a wide range prices. You also generally get better, faster, friendlier service from a local business than from a website, an outlet, or a catalogue.
Tell your elected officials to support business. Even in these tough times, there are businesses in our community who are doing well. Healthy businesses like to grow, and when they aren’t allowed to grow in one place, they move to a healthier environment. Local government has a lot to do with where, how, and how much businesses can grow, particularly here on the Suncoast, where we guard our environment with impact fees, surcharges, tax assessments, and super-majorities. Let your elected officials know that you don’t consider business the enemy and that a healthy business climate nurtures a healthy population.
Look out for your own best interests. Business helps pay the health insurance premiums that keep healthcare available. Business attracts the professionals who will, at one time or another, protect and restore your health. Business also helps pay the taxes that keep Medicare, Medicaid, and other government healthcare programs operating. You will one day need the healthcare products and services that we currently take for granted. Help your local business community make sure that when you do need them you won’t have to wait too long, pay too much, or go without. Support your business neighbors with your patronage and your influence.
1. According to Sarasota County Openly Planning for Excellence (SCOPE), the average age of Sarasota county residents is 49.2 years—nearly thirteen years older than the national average. Sarasota is statistically the oldest large county in the United States.
3. Manatee County Chamber of Commerce
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