St. Pete’s new pulse spurs Bayfront Health to grow its heart program

Published August 27 2018

As more condos go up in downtown St. Petersburg, the city’s oldest and largest hospital is investing in ways to stay top of mind for current and future residents.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is expanding its cardiology program to offer more heart health services on its side of Tampa Bay, said the hospital’s CEO, John McLain. The program, which now consists of eight surgeons, has more than doubled this year and will continue to grow.

The goal, McLain said, is to let St. Petersburg area residents know that Bayfront Health is equipped to tackle the most complex cardiology cases and there’s no need to go to Tampa for that kind of expertise.

The newly assembled team of surgeons will have offices at Bayfront Health, but they’ll also have access to the hospital’s James Heart Center, which is equipped with high-tech laboratories and equipment to treat a range of issues, from open heart surgery to valve replacements, all in private suites.

"We knew we wanted to invest and grow our service lines that mean the most to consumers," McLain said. "So we hired five new physicians for the cardiology program. We want to be the place in South Pinellas where patients come for quality cardiology care."

Bayfront Health struck a partnership with USF Health in 2015, when two of its cardiologists came to St. Petersburg to expand the medical school’s reach in the region. Now they’ll be joined by a group of well-known cardiologists hired away from long-standing practices and hospitals in Pinellas, McLain said.

Together they bring a wealth of knowledge, and their own patients, to Bayfront, said Dr. Angela Turner, who came to Bayfront Health in 2016 from USF Health.

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"We’ve been a small group in the area for several years," she said. "Now we have a robust team with years of institutional knowledge. In many cases, these are doctors who we’ve worked alongside already, or knew from other hospitals in the area."

Bayfront’s program will continue to participate in research through its partnership with USF Health, most likely in a larger way now that the team is expanding, Turner said. And, when needed, the physicians also have connections to the expertise at Tampa General Hospital, the teaching hospital of USF.

Bayfront Health is owned by Community Health Systems, one of the nation’s largest owners and operators of hospitals with 137 of them in 21 states. The company has struggled financially in recent years, posting heavy net losses quarter after quarter and has sold dozens of under-performing hospitals. Earlier this year, it sold its Bayfront Health Dade City hospital to Florida Hospital.

Despite this, Bayfront Health has a track record of investing in its St. Petersburg campus, once known as Bayfront Medical Center before it was purchased in 2013.

Earlier this year, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg renovated its neurology and orthopedic floors, and construction is ongoing this year to double the footprint of the emergency department with all private rooms. The chain also broke ground on a freestanding ER in Pinellas Park.

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Bayfront Health is equipped to handle the most complex cardiology cases, said Dr. Peter Wassmer, one of the new arrivals at the hospital, who has practiced at several St. Petersburg hospitals for more than 20 years.

"Downtown St. Petersburg has changed so much through the years," he said. "As more people move here and into these condominiums from up north, Bayfront Health with Johns Hopkins All Children’s is the most comparable type of urban hospital campus that they’re used to."

Wassmer said he hopes those connections will bring more patients to the expanded program.

"Bayfront Health has created a legacy for this community," he said. "We all share the same vision, to provide the best quality care for patients. We can perform all these procedures in one place."

While the cardiology program will be anchored at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, its services will be available to all Bayfront Health patients across the company’s chain of hospitals in Southwest Florida and along the Suncoast, McLain said.

The system operates seven hospitals from Citrus County to Charlotte County, having recently added the Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center in Crystal River to its banner.

"It’s the same care across the network," McLain said, "from Port Charlotte to Venice to here."

Contact Justine Griffin at or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.