WESLEY CHAPEL — Don Porter remembered the old days of emergency health care.
Two neighbor brothers got "liquored up." One slashed the other's throat.
"They carried him up to San Antonio, where a horse doctor practiced," Porter said. "They sewed him up."
That was after World War II, when the Porter family bought the 15,000 acres that came to be known as Wiregrass cattle ranch. Today it's the largest regional development in west central Florida, with an outdoor mall that opened in 2008 and plans for a future town center, offices and a branch of Pasco-Hernando Community College and a 300,000 square-foot recreation complex. It also is the site of Saddlebrook Resort and the Meadow Pointe residential community.
On Tuesday, Porter and his son J.D. gathered with guests and dignitaries on part of the ranch to break ground on the area's first hospital. Set to open in about two years, the 80-bed hospital on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard will occupy 200,000 square feet on 52 acres and create about 300 to 400 jobs.
"This is a great day for the Wesley Chapel community," said Norm Stein, retired administrator for Tampa-based University Community Hospital and one of the forces behind the plan to build it in partnership with Adventist Health System, which owns Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. (The two companies merged last year.) He and other executives took a helicopter tour several years ago and decided Wesley Chapel, with its rapid population growth, was the ideal spot to expand.
They weren't the only ones eyeing Wesley Chapel. The race to win state approval was intensely competitive, with a bid from Pinellas-based rival Baycare. Also, Community Hospital in New Port Richey, which was moving its operations to a new campus in Trinity, argued that Wesley Chapel did not need a new hospital.
An administrative law judge ruled in favor of the Adventist/UCH bid.
No doubt the state looked favorably on the partnership, said John Harding, regional president and CEO for the merged company.
"The state saw the choice to work together instead of competing as good for the community," he said after Tuesday's event, in which officials in blue hard hats turned ceremonial dirt and planted an olive tree sapling as guests threw in wildflower seeds that are to become part of the hospital's "healing gardens."
The gardens will be visible from all patient rooms at the three-story hospital. Planners designed them in response to studies that show patients who can see nature from their window heal faster than those whose rooms overlook air conditioning units and parking lots.
The hospital also will offer obstetrics, pediatrics, sports medicine, general surgery, men's and women's care, a wellness center and a full service emergency department with a helipad — all features that reflect Wesley Chapel's younger demographic.
The hospital's new CEO also reflects the trend. Brian Adams, 30, is currently the chief operating officer at Florida Hospital Altamonte, a 341-bed hospital north of Orlando. He will take over as head of Wesley Chapel Medical Center.
He has had more than 10 years with Adventist and oversaw a $100 million dollar expansion.
"I'm already acclimating myself to the community," said Adams, who plans to move his wife, Gwendy, and their 8-month-old son, Mason, to a home in Seven Oaks.
During the ceremony, hospital executives and politicians and property owners spoke of Wesley Chapel Medical Center as a landmark that would provide a place for healing, both economically and physically.
"There's no question better health care can provide a better quality of life that we can all enjoy," said state Sen. Mike Fasano.
For the Porter family, the groundbreaking ceremony just across the pond from the old homestead proved emotional, especially with relative Tom Porter now in hospice care. As a kid, Wiregrass manager J.D. Porter used to catch bass in the pond, and buried beyond the shore are the remains of two beloved Labrador retrievers. But for J.D., who lost his mother to cancer several years ago, allowing the land to be used for a hospital somehow made things right.
"Seeds of hope and caring were planted there," he said of his childhood home. "But seeds of hope and caring are also included in what's being planted in the health system. I hope everyone can appreciate it in the same manner as I do."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.