Photo: David Verinder, CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System

The Census Is More Than Just a Headcount

Posted on June 22, 2020
Editor’s Note: David Verinder is CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

Participation in the U.S. census is our opportunity to take part in a constitutional tradition that dates back to 1790 and, by doing so, help support our communities and make them better and healthier. More than just a headcount, the resulting census data determines the number of representatives each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and impacts the allocation of federal funding for education, social services, healthcare, and critical infrastructure projects.

When Sarasota Memorial Hospital opened in 1925, Florida’s population was less than 1 million, and the state was represented by four members in the U.S. House of Representatives. By the 2010 census, Florida’s population had grown to nearly 19 million, and we now have 27 House members. Locally, Sarasota County’s population grew from 12,000 people in 1925 to 379,448 in the 2010 census. It is projected that the 2020 census will show Sarasota County’s population is now approximately 430,000 — a change of 50,000 new residents in just the last ten years.

As the population grows, so do the needs of the community. The census updates are vitally important for state and local planners to address the myriad needs of our communities. The census is the best source for demographic information (population, age, race/ethnicity, household size) at the national, state, county, even neighborhood (census tract) level.

Because of this, we at SMH can quantify not only how much the county has grown, but also how much neighborhoods within the county have grown, and how the demographic makeup might have changed. This information is used to plan where schools should be, where parks should be, and where facilities/utilities should be.

It is also used by health care planners and government officials. Census data helps determine how federal funds from Medicaid and other critical safety net programs are allocated to states, and census maps help emergency managers and 911 first responders determine how many people will need help in natural disasters. When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, census information aided the rescue effort by providing estimates of the number of people in each block.

Participation in the census also helps Sarasota Memorial better predict how our population and demographics will change in the future and how these changes will impact our community’s future health care needs. For example, in the 2010 census, 31% of Sarasota County residents were 65 or older. We expect this number to increase to 37%, based on the 2020 census. By 2024, we anticipate that 40% of Sarasota County residents will be 65 or older, and nearly 6% will be 80 or older. As people age, they use more health care services, so Sarasota Memorial strives to plan facilities and services based not only on what our community needs are now, but what they will be in the decades to come.

Please help spread the word about the importance of the 2020 census. You can visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s page to complete the census online.

Census 2020 special coverage comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and the Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community.

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