The selection of James Burkhart as the next president and chief executive officer of Tampa General Hospital could mark a turning point for health care and one of the region's economic engines. Burkhart's experience in managing an academic medical hospital in Jacksonville that also serves as a primary safety net for the poor should make him appreciative of Tampa General's historic mission and clear-eyed about the challenges that face medical institutions in the fast-changing health care industry.
Tampa General announced Wednesday that Burkhart, 58, the president and CEO of Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, will succeed TGH's retiring president, Ron Hytoff, in March. In a statement, the chairman of the hospital's governing board, David A. Straz Jr., said Burkhart "has the skill set and experience" the hospital needed, citing his success in protecting charity care amid an environment of public and private reimbursement cuts.
Tampa General is larger than Shands Jacksonville, both in the number of beds and employees. But Burkhart's experience makes him well suited to confront Tampa's major challenges. As head of a private, not-for-profit teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Florida Health Science Center, Burkhart has managed both the academic and clinical sides of a major urban medical institution. He knows the value of maintaining strong ties with the University of South Florida, whose medical school relies on TGH as its main teaching partner. And Burkhart is a known entity to TGH and institutions across Florida through his work with the state's public safety-net providers.
Hytoff has helped strengthen TGH's bottom line and public image since taking over as CEO in February 2000. Under his watch, the hospital modernized its Davis Islands campus, built a reputation for excellence and restored public faith in its commitment to serving the poor. Burkhart needs to build on that record — expanding the hospital's reach and its place in attracting more health care industry even as it preserves its charity care mission.