TAMPA — It is time to renew marriage vows between the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, where more than 300 medical residents from USF work. But the longtime couple will commit for only another year — not another decade as they did last time.
Both sides say they expect Tampa General's next chief executive officer, who is to be selected in early 2013, will want input on such a major issue.
The new medical education affiliation agreement comes against the backdrop of a changing landscape in health care as high costs and the demand for a broader range of services drive institutions to seek the safety of larger groups and chains. Tampa General will soon be the bay area's only independent general hospital, with last week's news that Bayfront Medical Center will join for-profit Health Management Associates.
Tampa General leaders insist, however, that the USF agreement's short term isn't a sign of makeovers to come.
"I wouldn't expect any changes at all" to the affiliation agreement, said David Straz Jr., chairman of the Florida Health Sciences Center, the governing body for the hospital. "But we think the new CEO ought to have input."
Tampa General is the primary teaching hospital for USF Health, which has no hospital of its own.
"If we'd had 10 years this time, we'd have been delighted," said Dr. Jeffrey Lowenkron, the chief executive officer of the USF Physicians Group. But, he said, "I can understand why somebody coming in new might have some concerns about that."
As part of the 10-year affiliation agreement signed in 2002, which expires Friday, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine assigns physicians, students and residents to TGH.
The hospital, in turn, pays USF for the residents' salaries and related malpractice coverage and medical director fees. In 2011, that amount was $43.8 million, according to TGH records filed with the state. Federal funds reimburse much of that cost.
Meanwhile, the hospital's executive search goes on. Straz said TGH's board has interviewed "several" candidates, including local and out-of-area residents, to replace outgoing CEO Ron Hytoff. Last May, Hytoff announced his retirement after a dozen years at the helm of the 1,000-bed hospital, which employs nearly 7,000 and is the area's only Level I trauma center.
Straz said it hasn't felt the pressure to seek a deep-pocketed partner that Bayfront faced.
"I think we need to be looking at strategic opportunities, but I wouldn't want to put us in a class of hospitals that feel they need to," he said.
"We are very strong. We are not pushed to consider things from a survival standpoint."
While Tampa General remains USF's primary partner, the university has tried to raise its profile with other partnerships, sometimes antagonizing TGH.
Four years ago, USF Health CEO and medical school dean Stephen Klasko announced he wanted to open a small hospital on the USF campus. He declared that locals were leaving the area in search of better care, a sales pitch that riled providers.
In 2010, USF and the for-profit HCA hospital chain announced the university would run five new trauma units across Florida. Tampa General, Bayfront and other longtime trauma providers challenged the move in court, seeing it as a direct hit on their business.
And in September, Klasko announced creation of the USF Health System. Its first member hospital is Lakeland Regional, which hopes to add 200 residents from USF. Klasko invited bay-area providers to join the system, but so far no new partners have been announced.
But Klasko, who is on the TGH executive search committee, also has been quick to praise USF's connection to TGH. He noted in a news release about the Lakeland partnership that the relationship with Tampa General "is becoming stronger, and our futures are aligned."
Neither Klasko nor USF president Judy Genshaft were available for comment. But Lowenkron said the short-term commitment does not signal bumps in the relationship.
"There was really no tense moment here,'' he said. "Are we viewing ourselves as going in separate directions? The answer is no."
Said Straz: "We've got a long-standing relationship we hope will continue.''
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.