TAMPA — Saying they will be stronger as a team, leaders of Tampa General Hospital and the Florida Hospital system announced Tuesday they are joining forces to develop new health care services around the bay area.
They didn't say exactly what those offerings might be, but emphasized that they are joining only for new ventures, not consolidating existing operations. Each side will contribute $1 million to establish a board that will figure out how they could partner.
Possibilities include a freestanding rehabilitation complex like one Tampa General has for several years considered for Kennedy Boulevard in South Tampa, officials said, or a "big box'' concept with numerous outpatient services provided under one roof, outside of a hospital.
Partnerships and consolidations have grown common as hospitals respond to financial pressures in the rapidly changing health care industry.
But the new partnership is not a traditional merger, hospital leaders stressed Tuesday. By working together, two major hospital players seek to develop new health care models.
Tampa General ''remains independent to serve the community but at the same time it is partnering to better the product that we deliver,'' said David A Straz Jr., chairman of the Florida Health Sciences Center, the governing body for the hospital.
The largest hospital in the region, Tampa General is the primary teaching hospital for the University of South Florida. It is home to one of the nation's busiest organ transplant centers, as well as the region's only Level 1 trauma center and burn unit.
It stands alone on Davis Islands, while the Florida Hospital system locally has hospitals in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, and is part of the Orlando-based Adventist network.
Mike Schultz, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Tampa Bay network spoke about the need for hospitals to focus on the community, emphasizing preventive services for all ages.
"We can compete with one another, or we can partner with one another and make this a better place for the citizens of the Tampa Bay area,'' he said.
Both hospitals left open the possibility of others joining the initiative. The venture is a different take on hospital consolidation, which can bring bargaining power to drive down costs while better coordinating care. But mergers also raise concerns of higher costs for patients because hospitals have clout to extract higher rates from insurers.
Just about every independent or small hospital group locally has been touched by this trend.
• The not-for-profit Florida Hospital network has in recent years scooped up the former University Community Health system and opened a new hospital in fast-growing Wesley Chapel.
• Earlier this year, St. Petersburg's nonprofit Bayfront Health merged with the for-profit Health Management Associates hospital chain.
• HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, is buying three hospitals owned by IASIS Healthcare — Palms of Pasadena, Memorial of Tampa and Town & Country.
• All Children's Hospital joined the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine network.
TGH's longtime partner, USF Health, tried to offer an academic alternative in announcing last September that it was creating a new health system with Lakeland Regional Medical Center as its first member. That effort has had little visible movement, and its most energetic backer — former medical school dean Dr. Stephen Klasko — left for a job in Philadelphia.
"Health care is changing enough right now that we'll let that play out," USF president Judy Genshaft said Tuesday, adding that USF's Lakeland focus is on new residency programs.
TGH officials, despite having shown no public interest in joining a USF-led health system, say their future remains closely linked with the university.
On Tuesday, TGH signed a new, three-year medical education affiliation agreement with USF Health. It is an "evergreen contract,'' so that it automatically renews unless one of the parties wants to terminate it.
"We will never again walk to the edge of the cliff,'' said Dr. Harry van Loveren, interim dean of USF's Morsani College of Medicine, referring to the controversy that erupted last fall when the agreement was renewed for only one year, sparking widespread concern.
USF will continue working with HCA to run a new statewide network of trauma centers, a move that was strongly opposed by hospitals with existing trauma units, including TGH. In the new USF-TGH agreement, both parties have renewed a commitment to trying to work together before branching out to others.
With Tampa General and Florida Hospital now aligned, USF leaders expect to benefit.
"USF is really the glue that is going to unify the players in the marketplace," van Loveren said.