Sunday Conversation: Robin DeLaVergne leads with an everlasting passion for Tampa

Published February 2 2018
Updated February 3 2018

Robin DeLaVergne doesnít really like award-winning recognition. ē Fortunately, no one told Leadership Tampa Alumni. Or the Junior League of Tampa. Or the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Or the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. ē In recent years, all of those organizations have recognized DeLaVergne, executive director of the Tampa General Hospital Foundation and a TGH senior vice president, as one of the areaís top leaders. Leadership Tampa Alumni became the latest group to bestow honors on DeLaVergne, naming her the 2017 recipient of the Parke Wright III Award on Jan. 23.

Yet DeLaVergne humbly says the feel-good vibe that comes from helping others means more than trophies and plaques. While she accepts the acknowledgement with pride, some of her biggest rewards come from helping lead the hospital.

"Everybody would have to admit no job is perfect. Some days, things go bad," DeLaVergne explained. "But when Iím not having a great day, I can go talk to a patient who just had a heart transplant, or someone whoís waiting for a heart transplant, and then I say, ĎOkay, my day is not so bad.í"

DeLaVergne recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about growing up on Davis Islands with a life intertwined with Tampa General, being one of only a handful of women who have chaired the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce (2014), and what the future holds for the city and the hospital.

Youíve won so many awards. Whatís the emotion when peers and colleagues recognize you?

My father was a physician, but he chaired the United Way. He was president of the medical association and worked real hard with Dick Greco and some others, and he would sit me in the room to watch what he was doing. My mother volunteered at Tampa General every week. She was a Girl Scout leader. Itís the way I was brought up. To me, especially since both of my parents are no longer with us, I feel like I did what my dad wanted me to do. And Iíve watched what my children do, and Iíve been an example to them. My older son used to do river clean ups in North Carolina, and my younger son is now on the board of the Salvation Army and heís very involved in a lot of homeless projects, and I think itís from what he saw me and his dad do to give back to the community. The fact that people recognize that Iím doing what my parents raised me to do means a lot to me.

Tell me about your job. Why does Tampaís largest hospital need a foundation?

Tampa General is a tertiary, quaternary, academic medical center, weíre a safety net hospital for this area. If you think about it, there are about 300 hospitals in Florida. Ten percent are safety net hospitals, but those 10 percent provide over 50 percent of uncompensated care.

Wow.

So weíre taking care of a lot of patients that donít have any money. It costs just as much to take care of that patient as somebody with insurance. Thereís a lot of money that goes to operations and running the hospital, and with technology the way it is today and new equipment needs, thatís really what we raise the money for, the things that arenít covered by someone paying to have surgery.

Thereís also start-up programs that donít have a lot of revenue. We raise money for our integrative arts in medicine program which is something patients arenít charged for. So there are a lot of things weíre able to provide to patients that they donít get charged for.

Whatís the biggest challenge of your position?

I think that Tampa General is a jewel in our city but itís still something a lot of people donít know about. I would say, especially as new people move into town, itís just making sure people know who we are and what we do; that they know weíre one of the busiest transplant hospitals in the country, that weíre in the top 50 according to U.S. News & World Report in six different specialties. And weíve got great physician partners both in the community and through the university.

Weíre more than just a hospital. We really are taking care of patients even when theyíre not in the hospital. Itís more about coordinating care and helping them understand how we can do that.

You chaired the chamber in 2014, becoming one of only a handful of women to even hold that prestigious position. What did it mean to you?

For me, when I was in the meetings, I didnít necessarily see the difference between the men and women. They treated me like an equal. But Iíve also been very involved in Emerging Leaders of Tampa Bayís mentor/protege program because if youíve been given responsibility, itís important to pay it back and help bring up the future leaders.

Youíve been one of the people in a leadership role. What do you think has been among the cityís most significant accomplishments?

I go back to (Congressman) Sam Gibbons and when they brought the university (USF) to Tampa. That really began to change the fabric. There wasnít an interstate out to USF when USF was built. The people who have moved here because of the university, and all the work being done to keep USF graduates here ó I think itís become a magnet. I would say the university and now the revitalization of downtown, especially if you look at the medical school moving downtown and what thatís doing.

The obvious follow-up is has Tampa fulfilled its potential

No. I donít think anyone ever fulfills their potential, but if you look at whatís going on not just with Water Street Tampa, but the revitalization of West Tampa and Julian B. Lane Park, itís great. But affordable housing is not very affordable in Tampa. Thatís a potential we need to work on. With transportation ó I can remember growing up on Davis Islands, we rode the public bus downtown to go to the movies ó we have to make it easier for kids to get around and for young people who donít want to own a car. I think we have some real opportunities. I look at the tech companies that are moving here ó the incubators and the startups ó the work being done by Linda Olsen at Tampa Bay Wave, and the innovation hub Jeff Vinik is launching at Channelside ó and there are a lot of synergies.

Do you think weíll get there?

I do. Iím confident weíll get there.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Ernest Hooper at [email protected] Follow him @hoop4you.

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