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Tampa General Hospital names new CEO with local roots

TAMPA — After a nationwide search, Tampa General Hospital had to go only 200 miles to find its next president and chief executive officer.

The hospital announced Monday that John D. Couris, a hospital executive from Jupiter with a decade of high-level experience in Pinellas and Pasco counties, will become its new leader in September.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa General Hospital CEO Jim Burkhart resigns

RELATED: Former Tampa General Hospital CEO says finances played a role in his ouster

Since 2010, Couris, 49, has been president and CEO of Jupiter Medical Center, a 327-bed nonprofit hospital in Palm Beach County. He previously worked for the BayCare system, beginning in August 2000 as a vice president at Morton Plant Mease Health Care in Clearwater, where he stayed six years before becoming chief operating officer at Morton Plant Mease North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey.

In an interview Monday, Couris called Tampa General "an absolutely outstanding organization" and said he looked forward to the hospital accomplishing "world-class things."

He succeeds Jim Burkhart, who resigned in November after being pushed out by the hospital's board of directors.

The selection holds keen interest in the Tampa Bay area, where TGH has a large imprint on the region's health system and plays unique roles. It is the teaching hospital for USF Health, which encompasses the University of South Florida's medical, nursing and public health schools, among other colleges. It is the area's only Level 1 trauma center, one of only eight in the state. And it is one of Florida's leading "safety net" hospitals, providing care to low-income and uninsured patients.

"Tampa General is at a critical juncture in its continuing evolution to become a world-class medical center," John A. Brabson Jr., chair of the TGH governing board, said in a statement. He added: "It is critically important that we have the best possible leadership. I am confident we will have that in John Couris."

Brabson also called Couris "a dynamic leader with a passion for quality, innovation and excellence."

The decision followed a nationwide search conducted by a consultant and a TGH search committee.

During that process, Couris "showed us a deep understanding of the rich history and culture of TGH," said Dr. Ravi Bukkapatnam, chief of staff at Tampa General and a member of the selection committee. "He understands the importance of patient quality and patient satisfaction in a way that will benefit Tampa General moving forward."

Couris was the first choice of the medical staff leadership, Bukkapatnam said.

The job is a "dream come true," said Couris, who emphasized that he planned to focus on the hospital's relationship with USF.

"We're going to innovate, collaborate and partner with USF and community physicians," he said.

He said the hospital's level of care was possibly the best in the region, and wants to make it the best in the state by working with the university.

"It's going to differentiate us in the marketplace," Couris said. "We are going to build a new model. I am very excited about this."

His predecessor, Burkhart, had said after his resignation that concerns about the hospital's finances played a role in the board's decision to make a change at the top.

TGH faces unique challenges as an independent, standalone hospital at a time when larger health care systems are flourishing. What's more, the hospital could face steep cuts as Florida reduces Medicaid reimbursement rates over the next two years.

Couris, who takes over Sept. 1, addressed that issue Monday, saying the hospital needs to look at new ways to deliver the best services under new models as revenue sources shift.

"All industries change," he said. "Healthcare is no different."

As for immediate changes, he stressed that he knows Tampa Bay well after spending 10 years in the area but said he plans to immerse himself in the community to build relationships, given the "rich history" at TGH.

He said he wants to hear from all partners about ways to improve the hospital and patient services. "I plan to learn the culture," he said. "We have to make changes, but it will take time."

In its announcement, the hospital praised Couris for the way he forged partnerships throughout his career.

His 17-year career in leadership positions has taken him up and down the I-95 corridor, including a seven-year stop at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

He beat out 25 other candidates from across the country in 2010 to become the leader at Jupiter Medical Center, according to published reports.

While there, he engineered partnerships with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, according to TGH. Jupiter Medical Center also earned an "A" rating from LeapFrog Group and a four-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The rankings helped put Jupiter in the state's top 10 percent of hospitals.

In addition, Couris helped form a network with more than 300 physicians to provide care to the community and regional businesses. And he led a $50 million expansion that included a $30 million investment in medical technology, a new pediatric unit and a comprehensive cancer institute, TGH said.

Also in Jupiter, he established a $300 million fundraising campaign for critically needed medical services, including advanced cardiac care, expanded pediatric services and comprehensive stroke care.

Acting TGH president and CEO Steve Short said he will remain in his role during the leadership transition, and he predicted employees will be excited when Couris starts his position. Short praised the selection committee for luring Couris back to Tampa.

"The board took a lot of time to cast a net to find someone who can take Tampa General Hospital to the next level," said Short, the hospital's executive vice president and chief financial officer.

"John represents all the things we stand for."

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

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