Next month, BayCare Health System will open a new physician office building in this corner of southern Hillsborough County.
Consider it the first round of the Tampa Bay health care giant's bid to take power in a suburban area long dominated by national hospital chain HCA Healthcare.
The 40,000-square-foot building opening July 1 is the first completed piece of BayCare's new 72-acre campus on Big Bend Road. The centerpiece will be the $225 million St. Joseph's Hospital-South, which is scheduled to open in 2015 and come with 500 jobs.
"I think there are some patients there who've been driving to Tampa," said Paula McGuiness, president of St. Joseph's Hospital-North in Lutz, who is the lead planner on the southern hospital project. "This is an opportunity for them to go closer to home."
The Big Bend Road site is almost midway between two HCA facilities — 14 miles south of Brandon Regional Hospital and 8 miles north of South Bay Hospital.
BayCare and HCA West Florida are the dominant health systems in the entire Tampa market, combining for nearly two-thirds of the market's inpatient volume, according to the 2013 Market Overview compiled by HealthLeaders InterStudy.
HCA also tried to build its own hospital in the area near Big Bend but was turned down by the state. Last year, an HCA spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Times that the chain might still build medical offices on its property.
BayCare started its march toward the suburbs decades ago by buying strategically located parcels where they expected the population to move. The northern ring came first, and three years ago BayCare opened St. Joseph's North in Lutz, the first all-new, full-service hospital in the area in 30 years.
McGuiness said hospital leaders think the southern market will eventually look a lot like the northern one. "Everything comes in its own time," she said.
Tanya Doran, executive director of Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, said the distances to HCA's facilities in Sun City Center and Brandon may not seem like a lot, but it's not always convenient for residents in the Riverview and SouthShore areas.
"This is a huge opportunity for the medical care in our community," Doran said. "Competition is good. So the quality of options available is only going to get better."
HCA isn't standing still when it comes to increasing its own reach in southern Hillsborough. South Bay in March opened a $1 million expansion of its interventional radiology suite, where it can for the first time perform carotid artery stents, spokeswoman Natalia Diaz said. The hospital also invested recently in a computer-assisted surgical tool expected to boost capabilities in its orthopedic department, a speciality that is popular with Sun City Center's mostly senior population, she said.
"Even with the new competition, we're continuing and focusing on providing high-quality patient care," Diaz said.
The moves by both hospital systems mirror those across the nation. The so-called "geographic expansion race" means seeking insured patients beyond the traditional market boundaries, typically in more prosperous suburbs, according to a Health Affairs report from April 2012.
That can involve the construction of new hospitals or the opening of new, hospital-owned doctors offices.
The potential payoff? Shoring up referrals and increasing inpatient admissions.
Researchers studied 12 markets in the United States and found that the hospitals most likely to expand to new markets were already the dominant players.
Even though BayCare and HCA are considered the dominant players, neither is willing to totally cede the suburbs, south or north.
Tampa General Hospital plans to soon open two of its family doctors offices on Big Bend Road and in Sun City Center. The hospital has already begun expanding outside of its Davis Islands campus with other offices, including ones in Brandon and Carrollwood. In publicity materials, TGH touts those suburban practices for care "that's close to home."
Florida Hospital Tampa, located in the northern suburbs at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, has undertaken its own projects. It is building a new emergency department with 48 private rooms and a separate pediatric waiting facility, expanding its women's center and making renovations to the main campus.
The Health Affairs report noted that a shift away from fee-for-service reimbursements may end up making hospitals more efficient in their existing facilities. Could that make expansion plans seem like overkill? the study asks.
McGuiness doesn't think so, at least not in the Riverview area.
"I think the most important thing is that the community has come out with open arms," she said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.