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  1. Health

Tampa General, Florida Hospital form new company to offer wider range of care

TAMPA — Tampa General Hospital and Florida Hospital are teaming up to build a $60 million outpatient center in Brandon, launch a home care agency and create a hospice program. Their jointly owned partnership, called West Florida Health, is driven by a changing health care economy that favors big systems that can care for patients at all stages of sickness and health.

Top officials from the two nonprofit hospitals provided for the first time Friday the details of their partnership, announced in September 2013.

Officials were careful to say the partnership is not a merger of hospital operations. Both sides hope the initiative will enable them to serve patients not only in hospitals but also in outpatient clinics close to their homes, and through home health and hospice care.

"It's about continuum of care," said Tampa General CEO Jim Burkhart. "Where is health care going to be delivered? And how do we make sure we have a network to deliver care in the future?"

Teaming up also makes them more competitive with the nonprofit BayCare Health System, which long has been Tampa Bay's largest hospital system. BayCare has also acquired multispecialty practices and has an active home care operation.

"It's kind of a response to (BayCare's) strategy," said Michael Schultz, president and chief executive officer of Florida Hospital's West Florida region, which includes six hospitals in the Tampa Bay area.

HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, owns nearly a dozen hospitals in the region.

West Florida Health expects to begin construction in June on a "healthplex'' in Brandon that will include a primary care, specialty care, freestanding emergency room and ambulatory surgery center. The facility, which will be located on S Falkenburg Road, will take about two years to build.

Florida Hospital already owned a home care business, and sold Tampa General half. As previously reported in the Tampa Bay Times, the two have also teamed up to propose new hospice services for Hillsborough and Pasco counties. That's a competitive process decided by the state. BayCare is also among numerous competitors for hospice business, joining forces with Suncoast Hospice.

The Tampa Bay area's last independent hospital, Tampa General is the primary teaching hospital for the University of South Florida. The Florida Hospital system locally has hospitals in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, and is part of the Orlando-based Adventist network. It also has an affiliation with USF.

The new company, West Florida Health, already has an impressive board of directors, including Jeff Vinik, chairman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the developer behind an ambitious downtown project expected to include a new medical school for USF.

Though details have not been hammered out, officials said the new Brandon healthplex will include a mix of physicians employed by or affiliated with each of the hospitals. Though the two hospitals will continue to compete for referrals, those decisions will be up to patients and doctors, Burkhart and Schultz said.

They did not disclose the overall price tag of the partnership, but described the investment as 50/50. The partners will split revenue like reimbursements for testing and imaging at the Brandon healthplex.

The hospitals are synching up their electronic records systems as part of the move. Officials said that will allow physicians at one hospital to easily access patient records to avoid common, costly duplications, such as unnecessarily ordering a second MRI.

With the Brandon healthplex, West Florida Health will begin creating what's known as a "clinically integrated network," a collaboration of employed and independent doctors and other medical providers. The goal is for providers to work together to keep patients healthy.

That's good for patients, but also for the bottom line.

Rather than "fee for service'' — paying doctors and hospitals for every single test, exam and procedure — Medicare and other insurers will increasingly pay lump sums. The idea is to inspire care that keeps patients healthy and out of hospitals.

And it's why hospitals are getting far more active in primary care, community-based specialty care and home health.

Eventually, the partners say, this network will be in a stronger position to negotiate more favorable rates with insurers, Schultz said.

The trend toward health partnerships and mergers has touched nearly every hospital in the Tampa Bay area in recent years:

• All Children's Hospital joined the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine network.

• Florida Hospital scooped up the former University Community Health system and opened a new hospital in fast-growing Wesley Chapel.

• St. Petersburg's nonprofit Bayfront Health merged with the for-profit Health Management Associates hospital chain, which later merged with another for-profit chain, Community Health.

• HCA bought three hospitals owned by IASIS Healthcare — Palms of Pasadena, Memorial of Tampa and Town & Country.

No hospital can afford to be an island anymore, Burkhart said. They also can't rely only on the sickest patients coming through their doors.

"Mike and I have been in the sick care business," Burkhart said, "not the health care business, really."

Contact Jodie Tillman at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @jtillmantimes.