1. Opinion

Editorial: Tampa General chief off to strong start

Published Oct. 17, 2013

Jim Burkhart is off to a strong start at Tampa General Hospital. In less than a year as president and chief executive, Burkhart has underscored the hospital's mission to the poor; strengthened ties to the University of South Florida, its main academic partner; and carved a new business vision that promises to make the region a healthier and more dynamic place to live. This is good news for an institution that is a lifeline for so many and an economic driver for the entire region.

Burkhart has wasted no time in learning about the area and finding a direction for TGH since arriving in March. He has affirmed the hospital's historic mission as a safety net provider, sketched an ambitious vision for expanding primary care, and created a framework for building new clinical and specialty care facilities aimed at improving health care across a wide swath of Florida.

Balancing the need to grow the business while providing charity care and serving as USF's main teaching hospital is not easy in the evolving health care market. Burkhart's experience at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, another nonprofit affiliated with the University of Florida, gives him a sensitivity for these dueling challenges. He speaks carefully about building on the hospital's 3 percent operating margin, mindful that Tampa General is a nonprofit community provider. And he has calmed area concerns by making clear that the hospital and USF are long-term partners, breaking through an impasse to sign a new three-year medical education affiliation agreement that automatically renews.

Burkhart is also adding detail to the new partnership Tampa General announced with Florida Hospital, part of the Orlando-based Adventist network that operates locally in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Tampa General will not abandon its local mission but will team up on new specialty care facilities. Burkhart also wants to make services more accessible by incorporating some outpatient care under a "big box" facility west of downtown.

Burkhart understands Tampa General's strengths and the strong connection the region has to what U.S. News and World Report named last year as Florida's best hospital. The role he sees in providing charity care, an academic environment and specialized services — from organ transplants to burn care — will build the hospital's reputation for excellence. Burkhart has also stepped comfortably into his role as a leading voice for safety net hospitals in Florida, arguing for the state to accept federal money to expand health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. His vision of creating a delivery system to make the community healthier is the right priority for Tampa General. And it promises to strengthen the ties of the hospital in the political and civic fabric of Tampa Bay.