Earlier this month, Fresenius Medical Center of North America took possession of a property where they plan to open a kidney dialysis center in Gulf County, according to Jim McKnight, the director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition.
But while the Board of County Commissioners was excited to hear the news of the dialysis center’s progress, they could not help but comment on a new shortage of eye care providers in the county.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people about the Eye Center closing down,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan during the county’s August county commission meeting. “It affects a lot of people in Gulf County and the residents on this end that depended on that, and instead now they’re having to drive to Panama (City) or other places.”
The Eye Center of North Florida’s Port St. Joe location closed its doors at the end of June, citing a shortage of doctors and providers.
It was the only optometrist’s office in Gulf County. County residents now have to travel out-of-county to receive care, either at one of the Eye Center’s Bay or Washington County locations or at an alternate provider.
County Administrator Michael Hammond also pointed out that this posed an issue for county employees, whose insurance might not cover them at many out-of-county optometrists.
“We changed our eye plan, what? Last year? The year before last? Because (our old insurance) didn’t take the Eye Center,” he said. “And we took Walmart off and some of these others. We got one that just had the Eye Center, and now everybody’s stuck.”
McCroan said that he had been in discussions with McKnight about sourcing a new eye care provider for the community. McKnight said that he was working on the issue, though he did not indicate that the county had any strong leads at that time.
“We’ll work on it. We need an eye center. I’ve talked to several people who used that, and they were just really disappointed,” he told the commissioners. “You’ll probably get more calls, but we’ll work on it.”
Fresenius dialysis center nears opening
McKnight was pleased to share the details of Fresenius’s progress towards Gulf County’s new kidney dialysis facility, which he said has been rapid and substantial at the August meeting.
“I’m pleased to report that we have an executed lease by Fresenius on the dialysis facility,” he told the commissioners. “They’re going to take possession on September 1. That does not mean that’s the opening date. They have some work to do on a water system replacement, but they have leased the building for the next five years, so that project’s going to move forward.”
In February, the board unanimously voted to allow Chairman Sandy Quinn to sign an agreement with Fresenius Medical Center of North America, the nation’s largest dialysis provider.
The agreement specifies the conditions of a $100,000 subsidy that will be paid out by the county to Fresenius annually for the next five years.
The half-million dollars, paid for out of Gulf County’s health care trust fund, is allocated to offset start-up costs and other expenses at the facility. This includes the lease of space in the building, which is located in the Ascension Sacred Heart complex, but is owned by a private entity, separate from Ascension.
McKnight has been working to secure a dialysis provider since March 2021, when DaVita Kidney Care, the nation’s other dominant dialysis provider, shuttered their facility at the same location following the loss of DaVita’s contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Though an opening date has not yet been set for the Fresenius facility, McKnight said it could be expected in the coming months.