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Bayfront and HMA make pitch for purchase deal before council vote

ST. PETERSBURG — Two days before a critical City Council vote, officials from Bayfront Medical Center and prospective buyer Health Management Associates made one more pitch for a deal they say is key to the hospital's survival.

Alan Levine, a senior vice president at Naples-based HMA, said financial pressures created by a changing health care environment could kill off stand-alone hospitals like Bayfront.

If Bayfront is left as an independent hospital, "in five years there might not be a Bayfront," Levine said at a Tampa Bay Times editorial board meeting Tuesday.

Sue Brody, Bayfront president and CEO, said the Bayfront board had already decided the not-for-profit hospital could not continue alone. The hospital has struggled financially for years. If the City Council turns down the deal, she said, Bayfront will "go back to the drawing board" and look for a new partner.

Bayfront Health System's purchase price is $202 million. HMA will hold an 80 percent share in the joint venture that will operate the hospital system. A newly formed nonprofit foundation, Bayfront Health Education & Research Organization (Bayfront HERO) will own the remaining 20 percent.

The council must vote since Bayfront sits on city-owned land. Last week, some council members said they were worried that language in the proposed lease gave the hospital a loophole to get out of the expensive business of trauma care. The vote is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

But on Tuesday, Levine called HMA "100 percent committed to the trauma center," saying Bayfront would treat trauma patients from the chain's nearby hospitals.

Steven Dupre, a St. Petersburg lawyer who is vice chair of the Bayfront board, said of trauma, "We'd be nuts to let that go."

Levine said officials have added to the proposed lease agreement with the city a commitment to a $100 million capital investment — above the purchase price — over five years. He said programs such as robotics and neurosciences would be focus areas.

Levine also committed to a major physician recruitment effort at Bayfront and said HMA wants to upgrade Bayfront to a comprehensive stroke center.

He said Bayfront will be seen as the flagship hospital for HMA hospitals on the Florida west coast, including those in Hernando and Pasco counties.

The facilities would send their complicated cases to Bayfront, rather than to non-affiliated hospitals, meaning HMA would keep that business.

"This makes sense for us," said Levine.

Council members have raised questions about HMA's commitment to charity care at Bayfront. Levine angrily insisted that his company provides high levels of care to the poor at its current properties, and Bayfront would be no different.

Citing competition from other hospitals, Bayfront and HMA declined to make public their agreement that spells out their plans in greater detail.

Dupre said no executives from Bayfront are receiving additional compensation or stock from the deal and bristled at the question, calling it "insulting."

"I can't tell you the number of man hours invested in due diligence," he said of board members' work to vet the HMA deal.

Officials also said they would use the Bayfront Baby Place brand name and practices in the obstetrics units of other HMA hospitals, some of which already work with Bayfront's partner, All Children's Hospital.

Brody said Bayfront leaders are formulating ideas for the new Bayfront HERO. The foundation's money won't be spent on charity care but on projects such as medical education and research.

She promised its work would be significant. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for our community," Brody said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com.

Bayfront and HMA make pitch for purchase deal before council vote 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:55pm]
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