Ron Hytoff can look back with satisfaction at having served his community well during his 12 years as chief executive of Tampa General Hospital. He salvaged his predecessor's bungled effort to take the hospital private, built on the hospital's commitment to charity care, and strengthened its standing with patients, its medical partners and business and philanthropic leaders. His successor needs to be just as strategic in planning for the future and as open with a community that has never shied away from protecting its stake in this venerable institution.
Hytoff, 66, announced Tuesday that he will retire no later than June 2013. That should leave plenty of time for the hospital to find a suitable replacement and for the departing CEO to help in the transition. Hytoff's biggest contribution was in calming the waters after the divisive debate over privatizing in 1997. He helped the hospital rebuild relationships with patients, medical providers and political leaders, and that put the community on the same page on how to survive in a tough medical environment. He turned a money loser into a profitable operation, repaired ties with the medical staff and modernized the hospital's clinical settings and business operation.
Hytoff brought the right skill sets at a delicate time, and his successor needs to do the same. Tampa General's governing board needs to lay out a vision for the future and a process for finding a CEO who can accomplish it. Should Tampa General, as the primary teaching hospital for the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, be more formally allied with USF as a single medical institution? How will cuts in reimbursements for Medicaid affect the hospital over the long term? And what are the impacts of having or not having national health care reform?
These are some of the major issues the hospital must address in shaping a forward-looking business model. Tampa General must make money to meet its obligation to indigent care and to provide advanced trauma and other services unique on the west coast of Florida. How should the hospital balance its bottom line with its charitable mission? How far can partnerships with other providers go toward stabilizing finances? And what role will the hospital play in continuing to educate the next generation of health professionals?
Hytoff succeeded because he saw from the privatization debate the need to balance making money and providing quality care. That realization came from the strong public opposition to his predecessor's plan to move the hospital and water down its charity mission. It should be no mystery why Tampa residents feel so paternal about a hospital where so many were born or received lifesaving care. Given the great public interest in the next CEO, the board should give the public some representation on the search committee.
Hytoff was a numbers guy who came to realize the importance of reaching out, and his tenure will be remembered for having made Tampa General a more positive force across the Tampa Bay region. The next chief executive needs to similarly appreciate the role the hospital plays as a safety net, employer and economic engine.