ST. PETERSBURG — When All Children's Hospital announced plans to become part of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Health System in July, officials expected the deal to be completed by the end of the year.
But December came and went, and questions and rumors have been circulating in the community surrounding the beloved 83-year-old institution. Was the unique pairing in trouble?
Not so, All Children's officials said last week.
"We are absolutely progressing," said Cindy Rose, associate vice president for marketing and community relations at All Children's. She said the deal could be complete by the end of March, though there are other indications it could happen sooner.
The deal would mark the first expansion outside the Maryland-Washington area for Baltimore-based Hopkins. And for All Children's, the pairing is seen as a way to beef up its education and research efforts, as well as prestige.
What has taken so long? Rose said the two sides have taken longer than expected to perform "due diligence," which typically involves analyzing as much information about an organization, including its finances and staffing. Rose attributed the length of that process to both sides "being very careful," but said that work has been completed.
The sides are now hammering out a definitive agreement, which spells out how the relationship will work. Rose expects the document to go before the All Children's board for approval in the first quarter of the year.
Rose said All Children's officials have made a number of site visits to Baltimore, while Hopkins officials did the same in St. Petersburg over the last several months.
Among those making trips to Florida was Dr. Jonathan Ellen, who will become the interim pediatrician in chief and vice dean for the All Children's campus for 18 months once the deal is finalized.
In an e-mail last week about his plans, Ellen indicated he would be in St. Petersburg in early February.
Neither Hopkins nor All Children's has said much publicly about the deal since July. Gary Stephenson, a spokesman for Hopkins, declined to comment on the status of the deal, instead referring questions to All Children's officials.
Rose said All Children's staff members have received updates at regular meetings.
That, however, hasn't stopped rumors from circulating. Rose addressed one she'd heard — that All Children's president and chief executive Gary Carnes would be on his way out after the deal is final.
"Right now there are no plans for any key staff — clinical or non-clinical — to leave the organization," she said.
Officials from both sides broadly outlined the planned arrangement back in July. No money would change hands. Florida residents would remain a majority of the All Children's governing board, ensuring local control. Staffing and day-to-day operations would not change. And all money raised locally for All Children's would remain in the Tampa Bay area.
Ellen, currently vice chairman for pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is expected to develop All Children's research and education programs. That could involve bringing Hopkins' faculty to Florida, hiring new research faculty, or both.
Dr. Paul Danielson, medical director of pediatric trauma and division chief of pediatric surgery at All Children's, described the mood at All Children's as positive, though he — like many doctors — is curious about what lies ahead.
"The biggest question on our minds is how is this going to change what goes on at All Children's," he said. "Is it just a different sign out front, or a profound change in mission and services?
"But no matter what happens with Hopkins, if this deal goes through or doesn't go through, it doesn't change the fact that kids are going to show up in the emergency room. It's not going to change what we need to be doing here."
Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.