TAMPA — In its latest effort to build an on-campus teaching hospital, the University of South Florida is paying consultants to find a financial partner for the project.
Leaders at the university say an academic hospital specializing in diabetes and the neurosciences would elevate the quality of health care in the community. They see the hospital as essential to the 38-year-old medical school's ambitions to move up in the national rankings.
But USF needs a friend with deep pockets, hardly a cinch to find in a dismal economy. Just last year, the university tried to bypass usual channels to get state approval to build a hospital and only managed to rankle the medical establishment.
That push exposed the long-standing tensions between the university and Tampa General Hospital, its primary teaching partner.
Enter the consultants
Last month, the university enlisted the help of Cain Bros. & Co., a New York health care investment banking firm that is earning a $200,000 minimum planning phase fee, plus travel and out-of-pocket expenses.
"Tampa has all the ingredients to succeed in this endeavor," said chairman Dan Cain, adding that he has heard interest from players within the Tampa area and beyond. "It will be more a question of selecting than settling."
Still, he acknowledged the challenge of raising more than $150 million for a new hospital in a grim economy.
USF medical school dean Stephen Klasko sees an opening to provide better-coordinated care for diabetes, which affects 24 million people in the United States and is growing rapidly, linked in part to the obesity epidemic. Patients require a constellation of specialists for its many related complications, including heart disease, blindness and kidney failure.
Dr. Klasko envisions a 100-bed hospital where every specialty taught at the university would come together to create a new model for diabetes care. USF already has a star academic researcher, Jeffrey Krischer, who is coordinating worldwide research studies on diabetes.
On the neurosciences end, the hospital could tap into another area of strength at USF, which is affiliated with the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute. Georgetown University Medical Center has expressed interest in a partnership in the neurosciences, Klasko said.
The proposed hospital would be modeled on the Moffitt Cancer Center, located on the USF campus, rather than on a traditional, general hospital. USF's medical faculty and students would continue to work with Tampa General and other area hospitals.
But Klasko makes no bones about USF's desire to profit both financially and in prestige from the services it would offer.
Without its own hospital, "the university reaches a glass ceiling," Klasko said. "And the community misses out, because they don't have a destination site."
'Plenty of competition'
Most annoying to the local medical establishment has been Klasko's repeated assertion that people leave Tampa Bay in search of better health care.
That notion drew a sharp rebuke last year from Tampa General's president and chief executive, Ron Hytoff, as well as other hospital leaders. USF's consultant now is reaching out to Hytoff, who would say only that the USF concept remains preliminary.
"We also have been assured that the university would take no actions that would negatively affect (TGH) financially or clinically, which would be a paramount concern for us and the residents of Tampa Bay who depend upon TGH," Hytoff said in a statement.
He also said his hospital supports USF's efforts to become a "top-tier medical school."
University Community Hospital president and CEO Norman Stein also met briefly with the consultants, but said much is unclear about the proposed hospital, which would be across the street from UCH.
"There are now sufficient beds in the market to take care of the patients, so there is not a specific need there," he said. "We have plenty of competition today, and I'm not sure how much more value added to the community it would bring."
Still, he stressed that UCH wants to work closely with USF's medical school, with which it has established residency programs in several fields.
Klasko insists that despite past problems, there is local support for the new project.
"We've been able to get it away from us vs. Tampa General, or us vs. anybody," Klasko said.
"What we need is a strategically aligned partner. What we don't need is for someone to come in and tell us how to do things."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.