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TGH and Columbia officials network

As meetings go, theirs was unexceptional: two health care executives looking at forging a working relationship in a competitive market.

But Tampa General Hospital president Fred Karl is the tipster whose complaint launched a state investigation into an alleged attempt last year by the prior administration to devalue the hospital and sell it to Columbia/HCA HealthCare Corp.

And Dan Moen, with whom Karl met for the first time Friday, is president of Columbia's Florida operations.

Friday's chat skirted the topic of the ongoing investigations, which eventually will be brought before a federal grand jury meeting in Tampa.

"We focused on the future," Moen said. "There are enough people focusing on the past."

Karl said they began the informal chat with the understanding that the public hospital isn't for sale, nor is it available for a lease or joint-venture agreement.

But he is eager to establish Tampa General in a health care network that would give the public hospital greater leverage in negotiating managed care and other contracts.

The concept isn't new.

CareFirst Health Network was formed by a number of Tampa Bay's non-profit hospitals to negotiate with health insurers for managed-care contracts. Karl has talked with CareFirst and also is exploring the feasibility of launching his own network.

He expects to present options Monday to the hospital board.

Also at that meeting, Karl will ask the board to begin negotiations with him for a more permanent contract.

Since taking over as president in November, Karl has worked with a simple contract that gives either side the right to end his employment with 30 days notice.

"There's a need for continuity at this point. It's a good place to make the decision," he said.