The Gulf County Health Department, like so many other government agencies, is filling the financial pinch.

The Gulf County Health Department, like so many other government agencies, is filling the financial pinch.

As a result the Health Department announced last week that it would transition its primary care health services at its Wewahitchka facility to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf.

Initial plans have been made for Sacred Heart Medical Group to operate a new rural health clinic, including primary care services, lab services and radiology services, from the Health Department facility on State 22 in Wewahitchka.

“My goal is that this is as seamless a transition as possible,” said Health Department administrator Marsha Lindeman.

The action comes as a result of several factors, Lindeman said.

Over the past five years the Florida Department of Health has seen funding for primary care services shrink. For the Gulf County Health Department that has meant the loss of nearly $500,000. Lindeman noted it is a funding issue across the state.

In addition, the Health Department lost its physician at the Wewahitchka Medical Clinic and has been unable to find a replacement for two years.

Meanwhile, funding was further hit by the loss of fees from the decrease of patients for the physician, adding to the challenge of balancing a budget and still provide the needed level of services to the community.

“The cuts started before I came and we have tightened and tightened and tightened,” Lindeman said. “I came to the conclusion we simply could not maintain the level of services we have maintained.”

But, Lindeman noted, as she and her staff explored ways to whittle the budget, the commitment to the community remained.

“A guiding principle for us was to ensure that there was no reduction in the access to primary care services for any part of our communities,” Lindeman said. “We remain committed to protect and promote the health of Florida’s residents and visitors in Gulf County.”

Enter Sacred Heart, which since opening a hospital and medical office building in Port St. Joe has seen solid growth over the past few years, expanding services with a broad reach into the community.

"We are honored to partner with the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County to continue providing primary care services in Wewahitchka," said Roger Hall, president of Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf. "The quality of healthcare available in a community is always reflective of the quality of leadership in that community, and Gulf County is blessed with strong leadership that enables organizations to align strategically to positively impact the quality of life.

“The (Health Department in Gulf County) laid a solid foundation to build upon for healthcare in Wewahitchka, and we hope to meet and exceed the community's expectations for such services for years to come."

The Health Department, while handing over primary care medical services to Sacred Heart, will continue to provide basic services such as vital statistics, immunizations, WIC and some family planning.

The schedules for those services are being worked out but will, generally, remain the same, Lindeman said.

“The overall goal of this collaboration is to ensure access to care for the Wewahitchka community,” she said. “Ensuring access to primary care is a growing concern for individuals and families in underserved rural populations.

“County Health Departments (around the state) are collaborating with local health care partners to develop cost-effective strategies for uninterrupted primary care. We are confident that Sacred Heart will strengthen the balance between the demand for care and capacity to provide care.”

The details of this transition plan are being finalized now and are anticipated for this summer. Lindeman said there would be a “small” reduction in workforce but could not provide exact numbers at this time.