Officials at the University of South Florida are taking a more constructive tack in dealing with their primary teaching hospital, Tampa General. Medical school dean Stephen Klasko is no longer arguing for USF to build its own hospital on the Tampa campus. The university instead is launching new research and training programs. Dr. Klasko also is sounding more upbeat about the quality of health care in the Tampa Bay area. These are sound changes in strategy and tone.
Klasko made a splash three years ago when he talked openly about building an academic medical center at USF in part to stem the flight of local residents who seek advanced care in other parts of the country. Some area physicians took the comment as a gratuitous slight while Tampa General viewed a new hospital as a direct economic threat that would have diverted state and local resources for health care. In outlining a new vision for the medical school recently, Klasko made clear he still desires having a hospital — but acknowledges the economic and political climate has changed. He is right to move in a different direction to build the university's role and image.
Academic medical centers are grand, expensive institutions that can be international draws for research and clinical care. It is no surprise that USF would want to explore the idea; indeed, Tampa General's then-chief executive proposed a similar, controversial concept a decade ago. But Klasko seems to better appreciate that any such plan needs a broad discussion, and now is not the time. He has moved instead to build a simulation center in downtown Tampa to train physicians on the latest procedures. At the Villages retirement community north of Orlando, USF will use doctors and researchers to track living habits in an effort to develop an early-warning system for chronic diseases. USF also is working with Pennsylvania's health system to instill better leadership and communication skills in medical students.
Klasko has not abandoned his desire to operate a full-fledged hospital. But he is right not to press the issue. USF had a more urgent need to improve its relationship with TGH. Keeping this partnership strong is a vital interest for the bay area. Klasko sent the right sign by looking for other opportunities in this tough economy. He will need to resolve the uncertainty over the future of USF's residency program at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg now that Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine has joined forces with the pediatric hospital. Klasko has challenges with the operation he has. It is good a faceoff with Tampa General is over, at least for now. The region is lucky to have USF and Tampa General, and it is best served when the two cooperate.