Boca Regional’s Big Plans
During the next five years, Boca Raton Regional Hospital may change as much or more than it has in the previous 50 years.
The hospital’s proposed parking garage—more about that in the next item—is the first of four projects designed to transform Boca Regional. The others are a second tower, new operating rooms and a new power plant. CEO Jerry Fedele estimates the cost at $260 million.
Fedele came in 2008 as the third CEO in 10 months. The hospital had lost $120 million, mainly stemming from the attempt two years earlier to create a $600 million academic center. After Fedele and the team he brought stabilized the finances, they changed the name from Boca Community to Boca Regional.
Since then, the hospital’s core market has expanded beyond the city. Vice President Dan Sacco said the market now runs from Pompano Beach in Broward County to Lake Worth. As the market has grown, so has Boca Regional’s share of the market. Even as competitors tout their emergency rooms, Boca Regional has grown from 35,000 annual ER visits to 55,000. Previously, Fedele said, only about 100 of the roughly 400 beds might be occupied on an average day in the summer. “Now, we’re at 300-plus consistently. We’re much less seasonal.” He and I spoke last Thursday. The day before, Fedele said, “We were full.”
Meanwhile, in the last 11 years Boca Regional has started an open-heart surgery center and opened the Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute, the Marcus Neuroscience Institute and the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute. A new robotic surgery program has three such devices that cost $2 million each. The Gloria Drummond Physical Rehabilitation Institute—named for the woman whose family tragedy led her to found the hospital— will open this year.
So Boca Regional has a stunning list of outpatient services, but what Fedele calls “capacity problems” for inpatient services. Many rooms are still semi-private, and what Fedele calls the hospital’s increasingly “sophisticated patient population” wants is private rooms. Over the last seven years, he said, Boca Raton Regional Hospital “has fundamentally changed.”
Accordingly, the projects will help the hospital meet those new demands. Eighty percent of the beds will be private. In practical terms, Fedele said, the hospital operates with 350 beds. If Boca Regional can replace the parking lot with the garage, it will shorten the distance patients must travel to the main entrance. Most would get there by using an air-conditioned bridge.
The new tower would be on the north side, out to Meadows Road, and the hospital would renovate the existing tower. Fedele would like work on the garage to begin next spring and be finished by the start of high season, and for work on the towers to begin in 2019.
In almost any other similarly sized area of the United States, much of this would not be possible. Fedele said Boca Regional ran a surplus of between $7 million and $10 million in its most recent budget year on revenue of about $450 million. At non-profit hospitals, Fedele said, health care is a low-margin business. Because of the philanthropic base in and around Boca Raton, however, the hospital doesn’t have to pay for the improvements out of its operating surplus.
But while retaining that community identity, Boca Regional has widened its appeal and reputation. Affluent snowbirds who once flew home for advanced care are having it here. Turmoil at the North Broward Hospital District makes Boca Regional a better option for patients south of the county line. The relationship with Florida Atlantic University’s medical school is growing.
Between the planned improvement and the new programs, nearly half a billion dollars could flow into Boca Raton Regional Hospital over 15 years. How lucky that protests 20 years ago prevented the board at that time from selling the hospital. Despite that fundamental change, Boca Regional remains Boca’s own.
The hospital’s proposed garage got a favorable recommendation from the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board, but the neighbors aren’t happy.
Before the 4-2 vote, homeowners who live across the canal from the current parking lot complained about potential noise, exhaust fumes and excessive light. Some said their property values have been dropping and would drop if the hospital got permission to replace the roughly 200 surface spaces with 900 spaces in a 50-foot garage that could be 100 feet from their homes, rather than the 250 feet that otherwise would be required.
Some speakers made unreasonable suggestions. Example: build the garage on the north, which would force patients to cross Meadows Road. Some wondered if the garage would benefit employees more than patients, since the hospital moved about 300 employees from the lot to the nearby garage at Oaks Plaza on Glades Road. A hospital representative said “some” employees would return.
Mostly, though, the neighbors don’t like the size and the proximity. Indeed, 100 feet is pretty close. But as I reported last week, the hospital could build its planned second tower at that location. The tower would be nearly 150 feet tall. Property records show that values of the homes across the canal have been rising, not falling. Though Boca Regional was much different when it opened in 1967, the hospital likely predates many of the homes.
And the need is obvious. Board member Janice Rustin noted the times that she had been unable to find a parking space. Boca Regional also is not the usual developer seeking a change from the city. The hospital holds near-iconic status, which was reflected in the comments from some board members.
Still, the neighbors likely will turn out in big numbers when the proposal goes to the city council. That could happen next month.