TAMPA — Economic growth may be elusive lately, but a major hospital announcement Tuesday showed that competition for health care patients — and dollars — is as hot as ever.
Adventist Health System, which acquired Tampa's University Community Health system last year, said it would be spending about half a billion dollars over the next five years to expand facilities and services in the north Hillsborough-Pasco corridor, where six of its hospitals are located.
Adventist also announced new names for the hospitals, with each now bearing the "Florida Hospital" brand, putting them in line with 16 other hospitals Adventist owns in Florida.
The flagship University Community Hospital near the University of South Florida is now Florida Hospital Tampa. Adjacent Pepin Heart Hospital is now Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute. The other hospitals are Florida Hospital Carrollwood, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, Florida Hospital at Connerton Long Term Acute Care and Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, which is under construction and scheduled to open next year.
Not included in the name change is Adventist-owned Helen Ellis Memorial in Tarpon Springs, which would require a vote by Tarpon Springs residents, said Lauren Key, vice president of marketing for Adventist's Tampa Bay division.
The $500 million includes $160 million already announced for the new hospital in Wesley Chapel, and $125 million in capital improvements Adventist announced last year when it acquired the hospital system.
New projects will include an expanded emergency department and a comprehensive stroke center at the main Tampa hospital.
The Tampa Bay hospital market is dominated by the nonprofit BayCare Health System, which has 32 percent of the market, and for-profit Hospital Corp. of America, with 29 percent, according to HealthLeaders InterStudy, which compiles health care market information for the area.
Adventist has a 10 percent market share, ranking it fourth behind BayCare, HCA and Tampa General Hospital.
Michael Schultz, Adventist president for the Florida region, said his first aim is to recoup some of what UCH has lost.
"We've lost 5 to 7 percent market share over the last three or four years," he said. "We need to get that back."
BayCare has been expanding rapidly, last year opening St. Joseph's North, a $224 million hospital in Lutz, not far from several Adventist facilities.
"Any investment in health care is good for our community," BayCare president and CEO Stephen Mason said of Adventist's announcement.
Officials say upgrading and modernizing facilities will help reclaim market share; so should improving services for emergency patients in general, and stroke patients specifically.
The emergency department at the newly dubbed Florida Hospital Tampa is too small to accommodate the 73,000 patient visits it gets each year, said John Harding, president and chief executive officer of Florida Hospital's Tampa Bay division. The department will be expanded from 39 beds to between 55 and 60 beds.
Adventist's investment comes at a time when health providers across the country are reducing costs and facing declining reimbursements from government programs such as Medicare.
But it's in line with the trend toward building hospitals in growing suburban population centers. Harding noted that the Wesley Chapel project, which will create 400 jobs in the area, could not have been built without state regulators' agreement.
Officials also expect some of the investments to create efficiencies in the hospitals that will save money in the long run.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF medical school, attended Tuesday's announcement at UCH, located within walking distance of his office.
He said the link between the university and UCH has been "fragmented." Looking ahead, he sees USF's cardiovascular expertise as a key opportunity for partnership, along with clinical research, primary care, surgical and children's services.
"If we don't make it great,'' he said of the partnership, "shame on us."
Richard Martin can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322. Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8242.