DAVIS ISLANDS — Transplant patients at Tampa General Hospital who aren't quite ready to go home but don't need inpatient care have a new place to live: two houses the hospital purchased in the surrounding neighborhood.
Each house has three bedrooms and three baths. They sit a few homes apart at 34 and 18 Columbia Drive. The one-story houses are about a block from TGH, with one mere feet from the medical campus.
TGH paid $1.1 million and $550,000 for the houses and won a rezoning request last month that allows the hospital to open one of the homes to patients over the next few months while the other is renovated.
"Many of the transplant patients are quite ill and they have to commit to an extended involvement in care," said Angie Korsun, administrator of TGH's Transplant and Ventricular Assist Device program. "It's that home away from home where the patient and the family can be close to the medical services they require but live in a nonhospital environment. So it's a little touch of normalcy in something that can be quite abnormal."
Both homes have a little more than 2,450 heated square feet, and TGH hopes to house a total of three patients in each home. The homes will also be available to one or two family members of each patient. Qualifying factors to rent the homes include post-transplant health concerns and people who need further monitoring but live several hours away from TGH. Financially burdened families that can't rent hotel rooms for weeks will also be considered, Korsun said. Patients who stay in TGH's transitional homes will pay a nominal fee of about $25 a night. Stays will be limited to one month.
Tampa General performed 500 transplants last year, including kidney, pancreas, liver, heart and lung replacements.
"For a transplant center the size of TGH's," Korsun said, "this is a service our patients need. There are so many instances where patients need to be close and they're some distance away and we need to be able to help them with the strain of having to deal with a major procedure."
Many other transplant centers have similar transitional housing arrangements, such as the Shands Transplant Center in Gainesville, which has a two-story furnished apartment complex less than 100 yards from the main entrance of the hospital. The units are available to patients who live farther than an hour's drive away, according to the center's website.
"I believe that such housing arrangements are very beneficial to transplant recipients and transplant programs," said Maryl Johnson, University of Wisconsin medical director of Heart Failure and Transplantation and past president of the American Society of Transplantation. "They allow patients to be discharged from the hospital and yet be seen frequently by the transplant team for issues that no longer require hospitalization, but do require close follow-up."
She said transitional housing seems to be a growing trend across U.S. transplant centers including hers, where a nonprofit is opening the Restoring Hope Transplant House.
While Denise Cassedy, president of the Davis Islands Civic Association, doesn't dispute the need for such housing, she does have a problem with Tampa General's plans.
With as many as three families using each home, she worries about parking on the residential blocks. Lots of cars and lots of people.
Korsun said access to the homes will be controlled and limited to just a few authorized users.
"This is not something where 10 family members can camp out and bring their RVs," she said. "There will be rules set as far as expectations."
What really worries Cassedy and her association of about 500 Davis Islands residents is the fear that the space-starved hospital will bulldoze the homes and build multistory apartments or office buildings on the lots.
"What I find at Tampa General Hospital is that they always have a plan," she said. "On paper, it would appear what they're trying to do is what needs to be done. But underlying it all, they have way bigger plans that they're not being transparent about at all."
Korsun acknowledged that the transitional homes are just a start for the hospital, which ideally would build a high-rise building with an elevator that could house several patients at a time. But the neighborhood home sites beings used are not an ideal future location for such a building.
"No one's planning to have any huge hotel in that footprint," she said.
Justin George can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.