1. Business

Tampa's Laser Spine Institute abruptly closes, lays off hundreds

The entrance to Laser Spine Institute at 5332 Avion Park Drive in Tampa. The institute announced on Friday, March 1, 2019, that it was closing. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Mar. 6

TAMPA — The Laser Spine Institute abruptly closed its doors and fired its employees on Friday, apparently without warning.

The 14-year-old institute that regularly advertised its minimally invasive spinal procedures notified its more than 500 employees nationwide that it would cease operations, according to a statement issued by the company.

"My heart goes out to our great, dedicated staff who have stuck with us through all of our adversity and worked so tirelessly to help us right the ship," said CEO Jake Brace in a statement. His company bio touts his "turnarounds of some of the nation's most recognizable brands." He was appointed chief financial officer of United Airlines after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The institute has locations in Tampa, Ohio, Arizona and Missouri. Just three years ago, it spent $56 million to open its 176,000-square-foot headquarters at 5332 Avion Park Dr. near Tampa International Airport.

The out-patient surgery center is supposed to close at 8 p.m. on week days. But when a Tampa Bay Times reporter showed up after 6 p.m., the building was already closed and vacant. A woman who declined to identify herself said the staff found out at 3 p.m. that they had all been laid off. All medical appointments were cancelled. The woman said she was a nurse who had to wheel her last patient out.

The driving force in the shutdown, the company statement said, was financial.

"Despite significant cost saving activities over the last 6 months — including closing three surgical centers — that dramatically reduced its operating cost structure, the company has been unable to achieve a financially sustainable path forward," the statement said.

Related coverage: Laser Spine Institute joins ghosts of Tampa Bay businesses past, from Maas Bros to Webb's City

Those financial issues may include a Dec. 28 opinion handed down by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which overturned an earlier judgment won by a group of doctors from a competing laser spinal surgical center who sued the institute's founding doctors in 2006 in Hillsborough Circuit Court. They accused the institute's founders of breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy, defamation, slander, tortious interference and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The plaintiffs won their suit, records show, but now the appellate court had to settle what damages they were owed. It struck down the trial judge's award of $1.6 million. The plaintiffs argued they were owed "disgorgement" of about $264 million, which they estimated was the Laser Spine Institute's value in 2009 plus $77.5 million paid to the owners from 2005-09.

In legal terms, disgorgement is when one party is compelled to return wrongly obtained profits, both to reimburse the other party for what they may have lost and as a deterrent to keep it from happening again.

The appellate court noted that the "proper amount of the award at a minimum falls between $264,000,000 and $265,000,000."

In 2018, the institute was also ordered by a Pennsylvania court to pay $20 million to the estate of an Ohio woman who sued after her 2014 death, according to news reports.

No executives at the Laser Spine Institute could be reached for comment on Friday.

Its Tampa facility had 10 operating rooms and 28 recovery beds, according to Florida Agency for Health Care Administration records. The company said it had helped 75,000 patients since 2005.

It made headlines in 2013 when it was sued by professional wrestler Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea.

The Laser Spine Institute's patients are being referred to other specialists, according to the company. The institute is contacting surgeons in the cities affected by the shutdown to see if they are able to take on the extra patients, and will "also provide facilities for patients to receive the requisite post-operative care."

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report. Contact Malena Carollo at or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.


  1. Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times (2017)]
    Port commissioners approved the raise after a year with milestone achievements on several fronts.
  2. A rendering of the proposed Edge Collective in St. Petersburg's Edge District. Storyn Studio for Architecture
    The "Hall on Central'' will be managed by Tampa’s Hall on Franklin team.
  3. Mango Plaza in Seffner has sold for $12.49 million. The plaza is anchored by a Publix and Walmart, making it attractive to a Baltimore investment firm. (Continental Realty Corporation)
    Mango Plaza’s new owners are based out of Baltimore.
  4. The Southernmost Point marker in Key West. CAROL TEDESCO  |  AP
    The travel website put the Florida Keys on its list of places not to visit.
  5. Philanthropist David Straz Jr. and his wife Catherine celebrate in March after he advanced into the Tampa mayoral run-off election. Mr. Straz has died at the age of 77. TAILYR IRVINE  |  Times
    The former mayoral candidate who lost to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor earlier this year, died Monday while on a fishing trip in Homosassa. His name, and legacy, are integral to Tampa.
  6. The Chick-fil-A on Dale Mabry in South Tampa. The company announced Monday it will no longer donate to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
    The groups have faced criticism for their opposition to same-sex marriage.
  7. Candice Anderson, left, and Alsace Walentine, co-owners of Tombolo Books, rearrange books as attendees of the Times Festival of Reading leave the University Student Center behind them. [Jack Evans | Times]
    The shop plans to open next to Black Crow on First Ave. S before the new year.
  8. An opened capsule containing Kratom. The Clearwater City Council was confronted by dozens of concerned citizens at a recent meeting who urged them not to ban the herbal supplement. Times
    “Our recommendation right now is, we don’t think there’s a need to regulate it.”
  9. BayCare Health Systems now plans to build a $200 million, 60-bed hospital along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The company previously planned to build on 111 acres further north adjacent to Interstate 75 and an interchange to built at Overpass Road. Shown his the main entrance to BayCare's St. Joseph's Hospital North on Van Dyke Road in Lutz. Times
    BayCare plans a $200 million, 60-bed hospital on land it owns along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard
  10. Damian J. Fernandez, center, is introduced Monday as the new president of Eckerd College. He will succeed longtime president Donald R. Eastman III on July 1. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Damian Fernandez, 62, will succeed president Donald R. Eastman III, who steps down June 30 after leading the school for 19 years.