NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB) - City leaders, commissioners, experts and resident held a forum Monday morning to discuss the future of health care in North Port.
Right now, the city only has a single emergency room in the entire city. But it's not a hospital - just a center for immediate needs. The nearest hospitals are either in Venice or Port Charlotte.
Economic Development Manager Mel Thomas said, “We are 73,000 and projected to grow 3.3 percent for the next I don’t know how many years, gives us 100,000 people here. We need acute care. We can’t expect people to trek out of the area every time something critical happens.”
North Port is the largest city in the county and continues to grow every day, especially because of development in West Villages. However, the medical services have not expanded as quickly as everything else.
"This is the time. This is the absolute moment. We can't sit and wait. This is a pressing issue, and we need to take care of it as soon as possible," Thomas said.
Sarasota Memorial has mentioned that they would consider building a hospital in North Port after opening their new Venice location, however, many are hoping that in addition to that, more is done to bring acute care to the city and quickly.
Kevin Shaugnessy of the West Villages said, "It becomes a case of looking at wants versus needs versus likes. I want to have something, I need to have something, I'd like to have something. Let's take care of the I need to have something first and do it smartly and do it with the input of the community and let their voices be heard throughout the process."
Plus, leaders say it's not just a hospital that would shape the future of health care in the city.
Encompass Medical owner Kristen Gentry said, "Health care doesn't just mean a hospital. It can mean a whole variety of things. There are some options for the residents, but often what we find, if they need more specialized care, they need to travel outside of the area."
And there is space to make all this medical development happen.
"We have a lot of land," noted Thomas, adding, "But at some point, we're not going to have that land as inexpensive. It's going to start skyrocketing, and we're not going to be able to pick and choose, so we want to get ahead of it and start putting shovels in the ground to provide what we've got to protect the health of our population."
So what's next?
Commissioners will be discussing all the different options presented Monday and work with the economic development team to create set plans.