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Plaza Medical Center: A senior sanctuary in South Florida


cavanaugh-dr.-michaelPlaza Medical Center has been serving the needs of the South Miami community of Richmond Heights since 1980.Today, it has spread its wings across Miami-Dade County with offices in the cities of North Miami, Kendall, and Broward County’s Oakland Park and Plantation.

Lead physician Dr. Michael Cavanaugh and his partners recognized the need for a healthcare facility for the increasingly aging community and, in 2005, took over the small medical practice on 152nd Street in Miami with a mission to serve seniors, many from African American and Caribbean backgrounds.

“Our focus is to buy doctors’ offices, make them into stronger practices with better medicine for the patients and not lose the personal touch between the doctor and the patient,” Dr. Cavanaugh explained.

Dr. Cavanaugh, board-certified in internal medicine and geriatrics with more than 33 years of clinical practice, explained that treating the aged is not the same thing as treating young people. “I also have to take into account their tolerances to the treatment,” he said. “So, by focusing on seniors we have been able to specialize in the frail and the diseases and conditions that affect the aged.”


But looking after the elderly is not just about frailty and disease, said Dr. Cavanaugh. He is often amazed at the strength, agility, and sharpness of the elderly patients he sees everyday. “We have 95-year-old people who are still driving,” he said. “They take care of their own bills, manage their own lives, and make everyday decisions without difficulty, and many have fascinating histories.”

With an average patient load of 20 per day for each doctor throughout the six owned and seven managed centers, Dr. Cavanaugh and his partners have plans to expand their brand of personal medicine across South Florida. “From a business perspective we look to buy one or two doctors’ office every year and bring them under our fold, our philosophy, which is to enhance the services and slow down the practice where the doctor can spend more time with the patient,” he said.

“But, at the same time we want to expand the number of patients that are actually using the services.” The physical space within the Richmond Heights Center is inviting. Building an accommodating practice translates into preventive medicine. “We practice a proactive style of medicine. We believe in the philosophy of the primary care doctor being responsible for coordination of all the patients’ care,” said Dr. Cavanaugh.

The geriatrician recognizes that some seniors use the Emergency Room as a means to get regular medical care, and has made the commitment to re-educate them.


tharmarajah-dr.-marcelleAlthough the centers’ mainly focus on seniors, the thriving family practice side of the business attends to younger patients, 25 years and older. Dr. Marcelle Tharmarajah, who is of Haitian descent, is from the South Miami community and finds providing medical services to her neighbors and friends rewarding.

“I went to junior high school in this neighborhood so I am very familiar with the people and I relate to them pretty well,” Dr. Tharmarajah explained. Born in New York, but raised in Haiti since she was a child, the family medicine physician has been a clinician for more than seven years. She delivers a range of services, such as managing chronic illness, immunizations, routine checkups and healthy lifestyle counseling.

Like the other doctors at the practice, Dr. Tharmarajah spends time with patients, counseling and advising them on medication safety or simply serving as a listening ear. “They can bring their list of medications they are currently taking and I will cross-reference that with the medications I prescribe and talk to them about possible side effects,” she said.

D. Tharmarajah added that she also counsels patients about the herbs they are taking, especially those from the Caribbean who grew up on alternative treatments. The practice will consider any alternative practice that works, and has incorporated therapeutic massage as part of its range of services.


Part of what makes Plaza Medical Center different is the range of ancillary services it provides. For example, the facility has partnered with the Department of Children and Families to help families re-certify their children for Medicaid benefits, subsidies and cash assistance. There is no charge for this service, a huge benefit to community residents served by the centers.

“Social services is an important part of delivering healthcare,” said Dr. Cavanaugh. “...Some patients qualify for Meals on Wheels, but just don’t know how to complete the paperwork.” It is this balance of quality healthcare, free social services and personal attention that has earned the Plaza Medical Center Humana’s Five Star Award for six years running.