Medical Care in Palm Coast Reduces the Need to Travel

Used to be that Palm Coast and Flagler County residents had to travel to a large city such as Gainesville, Jacksonville or Orlando to receive more advanced or specialized medical care.
Palm Coast didn’t have a cancer or heart specialist in town just a couple decades ago. Even family doctors doing routine care were sparse in the late 1980s, the 1990s and into the 2000s.
There was one physician, Dr. John Canakaris, who did “everything,” said Casey Ryan, a Palm Coast resident since the mid-1980s.
He was legendary for his doctoring of everything from a basic cold or flu to delivering babies to performing minor surgery, when necessary. And he didn’t limit his medical knowledge to helping humans.
“He was also known for being a doctor to animals,” she recalls. “He was ‘the’ doctor here long before any specialist was established in this county. He was the ‘one and only’ and he did it all.”
Not anymore.
A quick browse through the physician’s listings on document a wide array of medical care services now offered in Palm Coast.
According to the online guru of all things medical, Palm Coast has 119 family physicians, 20 pediatricians, five geriatric specialists, 29 orthopaedic surgeons, and 20 cardiac specialists. lists 74 family physicians.
So, while we cannot vouch for the exact number of “doctors” in Palm Coast, we can confidently state there are a lot more physicians and specialists than during the time frame that Dr. Canakaris was pioneering health care in Flagler County. And this addition of physicians and services means that today more locals can and do receive services right in town.
After all, Palm Coast has something a bit unique for a town of its size with just shy of 100,000 residents: Not just one, but two cancer treatment facilities.
Both AdventHealth (formerly Flagler Hospital) and Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) offer a wide array of cancer treatments right in Palm Coast. Today, most cancer patients in Palm Coast don’t have to drive an hour and half west on I-4 to Orlando or an hour plus north on I-95 to Jacksonville.
FCS has in-house pathology laboratories as well as pharmacy — two key support services for cancer treatment available under one roof eliminating the need to schedule appointments at another facility and also the additional travel time necessitated.
As per information on its website, FCS treats 64 types of cancer at its Palm Coast location. External-beam radiation therapy is available here. This type of radiation treatment is given daily over the course of weeks or months, depending on the patient need.
Having this available in Palm Coast also eliminates longer travel times to get treatment.
“As a community-based oncology practice, our patients benefit from receiving exceptional quality care, close to home, without the added expense and discomfort of travel,” FCS states on its website.
Ditto for reducing the need to travel out of town for patients using AdventHealth, Palm Coast’s largest medical provider. Advent is expected to retain that distinction with the addition of a 100-bed hospital currently under construction and expected to open in spring 2023. The four-story building is located off the Palm Coast Parkway near Bridgehaven Drive on the opposite side of town from the location of its first Palm Coast hospital at 60 Memorial Medical Parkway dominating the intersection of US 95 and E. Highway 100. The new $100 million AdventHealth hospital marks the largest medical investment in Flagler County.
“We will be opening that brand new hospital as a stand-alone facility that extends the level of service that AdventHealth provides in Palm Coast,” explained Denyse Bales-Chubb, the president and chief executive officer of AdventHealth Palm Coast. “One of the things we recognized here in Palm Coast is the growing need for access to additional physicians. Thus, we made a big push for new primary care and family physicians as well as specialists such as orthopods (orthopaedic doctors/surgeons) and cardiac doctors so that we can continue to meet the needs of this community.”
Bales-Chubb also highlighted the inclusion of an emergency department at the new facility makes access to that type of service much closer for people living in the southern end of Palm Coast.
“The ability to get to an emergency department in minutes can mean the difference between life or death for our patients,” said Paul Mucciolo, chief of staff at AdventHealth Palm Coast, in a recent press release announcing construction of the new hospital. “I’m thrilled that even more families will be just a few minutes drive from our world-class care.”
Palm Coast has a predominantly older population — 30 percent of residents are age 65 or older according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even though families are moving here, retirees still dominate the scene. With aging comes greater health troubles including a significant increase in the possibility of experiencing a heart attack or a cardio vascular failure.
Fortunately, a big part of the expansion of health services in Palm Coast is centered on heart health. AdventHealth pretty much leads the way for heart care in Palm Coast offering care and specialists for acute and chronic conditions including atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia.
Dr. Dean Mehdi Abtahi is an interventional cardiologist who is now approaching his fifth year of practice. He came from a residency in Charleston, South Carolina — a city much larger than Palm Coast; a city with a much larger medical presence.
Yet, there wasn’t much difference in the level and types of cardiac care being offered in Palm Coast as compared to Charleston or even to Gainesville, Florida, where he attended the University of Florida, he told Palm Coast Magazine.
“I believe patient outcomes improve when their comprehensive treatment is close to home as it is here,” he said.

Non-Traditional Approaches

Direct care is also part of the medical scene in Palm Coast. It is an emerging form of health care in which the doctor-patient relationship extends beyond just the care to include the financial aspect.
After paying a one-time initiation fee, patients participating in a direct care program pay a standard monthly fee to receive health care 24/7. Each direct care clinic has a specific list of medical services included in the monthly fee and offers discounted rates for services – such as lab work – that is not included.
The Oceanside Medical Center located at 5915 N. Oceanshore Blvd operates under this mode.
Lauren Williams, the center’s lead provider, is a nurse practioner. She works under the direct care model because she said it provides patients with greater access to the medical care she provides. Her patients see her within 24 hours — and often times sooner — when a medical need arises.
“I went to medical school to provide patient care; not to do paperwork,” she said in reference to the ever-growing amount of paperwork insurance companies are requiring from medical providers.
Members of her direct care service receive her cellular phone for needs that arise outside of regular business hours. When a patient has a need requiring specialization outside her expertise, Williams refers them to the same physician she would see.

Physical Therapy’s Role

According to, Palm Coast has 41 physical therapists. Again, the aging factor in Palm Coast explains the significant presence of professionals whose work involves getting the human body back to its best possible level of performance post an injury or surgery.
Enter Dr. Betsy Kreymer, a physical therapist who laughs at the joke that PT is physical torture. What she does know is that older people don’t want to feel old. Many want to stay as active as possible.
Sometimes, physical therapy can make that happen.
“Clients will tell me that they have this pain and that pain,” she said. “But they have a golf game this weekend.”
Her professional goal: Help them strengthen themselves to be able to play that game. Or perhaps it is pickleball.
“Since moving here to Palm Coast, I have learned what pickleball is,” she said with a chuckle. “And it’s great. I tell my clients that if playing pickleball is your goal, then let’s make that happen. I don’t talk to them like they are geriatric. I tell them they are strong, and they can do it.”

Coming Full Circle

Perhaps it is fitting that we are now back to Casey Ryan as we take a look at end-of-life care.
Ryan, who has had a front row seat to the development of the medical community in Palm Coast and whose father played a crucial role in securing land for the county’s first hospital in Bunnell, is now the Continuing Care Liaison for Halifax Health-Hospice.
In her role, Ryan coordinates medical services such home health hospice, palliative care, speech therapy and wound care.
It’s another part of health care that has grown in Palm Coast.
“Flagler County now has five choices for hospice care and two dozen for home health care,” Ryan said. “Our county has grown so much and it is fantastic to have lived here, to work and play here and to now get such a wonderful amount of services right here in town.”
We think perhaps that Dr. Canakaris would approve.