TAMPA — Shriners Hospitals for Children plans to close Shriners Children’s Florida, the nonprofit’s only pediatric treatment facility in the Tampa Bay region.
Once a hospital famed for its free treatment of children with burns or club feet, the facility at the University of South Florida transitioned to an outpatient-only clinic in 2019 specializing in orthopedic treatment. The nonprofit has provided health care at the site since 1985.
Now the charity, which is headquartered in Tampa, plans to partner with a health care provider to offer those services in the Tampa Bay region beginning April 1, said Shriners spokesperson Mel Bower.
The outpatient facility employs fewer than 100 people, though Bower could not give an exact number. He said the decision will result in layoffs of the majority of those but did not say how many will lose their jobs. Employees have been notified that the clinic is closing, he said. The nonprofit had not filed any layoff notices with the state as of Thursday afternoon.
“We feel very deeply for employees that are impacted by this and served us for a long time in an important and powerful way,” said Bower.
Among those treated at the clinic are children with scoliosis, muscular dystrophy and osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease, according to its website. It also provides radiology and pediatric rehabilitation services and provides custom-fitted shoe inserts, braces and artificial limbs.
The decision to close the clinic was a joint one made by the Shriners local board in Tampa and the national board of Shriners Children, Bower said. Operating a clinic that only offered specialty treatment made it “challenging to deliver care efficiently.”
The boards decided they could treat more children in more places by partnering with another provider.
“We see this as a step forward,” Bower said. “We believe there are local affiliates that can provide that care more efficiently than we can in our current model.”
Loren Pudlewski’s 10-year-old son has been treated at the facility since he was 3. He has cerebral palsy and receives weekly occupational and physical therapy. He also gets orthotics casts that are made and fitted at the clinic that support his feet and legs. Pudlewski said she does not know where she can now take her son and doubts there will be a place like Shriners that provides a full range of orthopedic services.
She said parents only heard about the closing after a Tampa Bay Times story published Thursday afternoon.
“I haven’t told him the hospital is closing yet because he’s going to be devastated,” she said. “There is no place like this in the Tampa Bay area where kids of unique needs can meet each other.”
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The one-time hospital was built by Shriners on land it leases from USF. Discussions between the two about the future of the site are ongoing, said USF spokeswoman Althea Johnson. Shriners plans to continue to operate the Shriners Children’s Genomics Institute, which is at the USF Research Park.
Shriners hospitals have been renowned for treating children with debilitating injuries for free. They only began accepting insurance in 2011 but they still provide free care for children with no insurance coverage. That generosity is typically funded by Shriners International, a Masonic fraternity open to men with nearly 200 chapters in the U.S. and other countries. The philanthropic organization’s headquarters are on Rocky Point Drive. It has no plans to relocate, Bower said.
The decision to switch the hospital to outpatient-only in 2019 came as it faced increasing competition from other hospitals. St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa has a dedicated trauma center for children and offers cardiac and oncology services for children. The 259-bed Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg provides intensive care and other pediatric treatment and is affiliated with Children’s Orthopaedic and Scoliosis Surgery Associates, said spokesperson Roy Adams.