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The move reflects a trend in which doctors are moving toward working in large groups.

South Pinellas County's largest physician group is joining the Tampa Bay area's largest health care provider.

St. Anthony's Health Care, part of the BayCare Health System, is buying Suncoast Medical Clinic, a physician-owned group of nearly 50 doctors in multiple specialties, officials announced Thursday.

The move reflects a national trend away from small physician practices and toward doctors working in large groups, increasingly owned by hospitals.

Suncoast is right next to Bayfront Medical Center, a competitor of St. Anthony's, and many of its physicians practice at Bayfront as well as at St. Anthony's and other area hospitals.

That won't change - physicians will be able to maintain privileges at other hospitals, said Dr. Mark Gordon, a urologist and president of Suncoast Medical Clinic.

Suncoast's main campus will also remain at 601 Seventh Street S in St. Petersburg until 2013, when it is expected to move to the St. Anthony's campus, less than 2 miles away.

Under terms of the deal, most Suncoast physicians will be employed by an associated company of St. Anthony's called SC Physicians LLC, while other Suncoast physicians will work for the new group on a contract basis, said William Ulbricht, president of St. Anthony's Health Care.

Ulbricht and Gordon say the pairing will mean better coordinated, higher-quality patient care, while also preparing for anticipated changes to the country's health care system.

"We feel that by coordinating care better, we can reduce costs, avoid unnecessary duplicating of testing, transmit information better, and improve outcomes," Ulbricht said.

What does Suncoast gain? "We're looking at a network (BayCare) with substantial resources, and expertise at many levels that we as a clinic could not afford," Gordon said.

BayCare controls more than a third of the hospital business in the Tampa Bay area, operating 10 not-for-profit hospitals and more than 100 other facilities, including outpatient centers and urgent care clinics spread throughout Tampa Bay.

The acquisition is the latest example of BayCare's continued growth. It is building a 100,000 square-foot emergency center at St. Anthony's, a 103,500-square-foot addition to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, and a neonatal intensive care unit expansion and a new breast center at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa.

Ulbricht said acquiring a large physician group like Suncoast will help BayCare prepare for the future. As government cuts reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid, and as new models of care emerge, some experts say health systems that are large and diverse will be best able to cope.

Ulbricht said BayCare and Suncoast have talked for years about strengthening their relationship, but formal discussions about purchasing Suncoast began about 18 months ago. The deal was approved by BayCare's board, then by Suncoast's physicians in a vote last week, Gordon said.

Bayfront spokeswoman Kanika Tomalin said Thursday she expects the deal to have a minimal impact at her hospital.

While the transaction has been finalized, the parties now are in a closing period, which can take up to 60 days, Ulbricht said.

Richard Martin can be reached at or (727) 893-8330.