Tampa General Hospital Expands To Palm Beach County To Lure Patients

John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, photographed overlooking the Tampa skyline in September 2018.

Tampa General Hospital, the west coast’s largest hospital, is expanding into Palm Beach County.

The move is led by John Couris, Tampa General’s chief executive, who formerly was head of Jupiter Medical Center.

The expansion comes at a time when Palm Beach County patients, who might have sought treatment in New York or Boston, may be looking for alternatives in the state. The coronavirus pandemic has made many people reluctant to step on an airplane to fly to the Northeast for fear of catching the airborne virus.

Couris is an ambitious dealmaker who is known for his prowess in expanding hospital companies. While chief executive of Jupiter Medical, he forged an alliance with Mount Sinai of New York. However, the alliance fell apart in 2019 over differences in running the cardiac program, after Couris had left to join Tampa General in 2017.

In an extensive interview, Couris said Tampa General already has partnered with an oncology physician practice group, Cancer Center of South Florida, with offices in Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Worth and now Tampa.

But Tampa General has much more ambitious plans in this region than one practice group. Couris said the hospital soon will unveil partnerships with a range of other practice areas in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

The goal: Expand Tampa General’s reach from the west coast to the east coast in hopes that patients will use the specialized services of the Tampa hospital. Couris said he also wants to offer patients on Florida’s east coast another health care alternative, even though the county already is swamped by competing hospital players.

Couris acknowledged that Tampa General wants to grow demand for its specialized services, which are profit centers for the hospital. An example is brain surgery. “It costs more to come in for a major brain surgery than for a hernia,” he said.

But Couris said the hospital doesn’t want to grow its presence statewide by building costly medical centers on the east coast to draw patients. Partnering with physician practices, on the other hand, is a less expensive way into the crowded health-care market.

Is there room for one more competitor? Couris said yes.

“Competition is good,” Couris said. “We believe the consumer deserves a choice, and that we provide a set of services that other hospitals around the state don’t provide … We consider ourselves the state of Florida’s hospital.”

While Tampa General’s expansion quietly has been taking place for more than a year, the hospital could benefit from the unexpected coronavirus pandemic.

Many people who used to travel to and from homes in New York and Florida are staying put in the Sunshine State.

Not only are some people afraid of catching the airborne virus while on an airplane, especially if they are sick, but also they are staying away from dense, urban cities that were devastated by the coronavirus earlier this year. The trend has caused a housing boom in Palm Beach County, especially in Palm Beach, where mansion sales have surged in recent months.

Palm Beach County patients who know local or regional hospitals might not be familiar with Tampa General.

The large, independent, non-profit hospital company has more than 1,000 beds, 10,000 employees and features numerous specialty services, including a burn center and a transplant center.

Tampa General is aligned with the University of South Florida’s medical school. The hospital also was just recognized as one of America’s Best Hospitals for gastroenterology and gastrointestinal surgery by U.S. News & World Report.

Tampa General’s expansion across the state comes after years of efforts by state-based hospital systems and out-of-state hospital companies to expand to Palm Beach County and lure wealthy, insured patients into their networks.

Baptist Health South Florida of Coral Gables has been particularly aggressive. In 2018, Baptist was selected as the buyer of Boca Regional Hospital. In August, Baptist opened an urgent care center west of Boca Raton.

Cleveland Clinic, whose Florida campus is in Weston, also has opened several clinics in Palm Beach County. It purchased land for more medical offices and maybe a hospital on Lake Worth Road, just west of Florida’s Turnpike.

After failing in its bid to buy Boca Regional, Cleveland Clinic had more success farther north and bought Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach and Martin Health System in Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Other out-of-state hospital systems have expanded to Palm Beach County, too, including three New York-based entities: Mount Sinai of New York, NYU Langone and the Hospital for Special Surgery. They either opened clinics or partnered with existing physician practices to grow their presence.

These out-of-state providers seek not only patients they can treat locally, but also patients who are willing to go to their New York hospitals for surgery and treatment.

Another draw for out-of-state players: Wealthy patients who will show their gratitude to hospital companies through philanthropic dollars.

For Tampa General, however, “philanthropy is not the main driver,” Couris said.

Patient care is, he said.

As proof that Tampa General’s strategy is sound, Couris offered an example. He said a partnership with the Cancer Center of South Florida, an oncology practice, has resulted in some 300 Palm Beach County patients coming to Tampa General for treatment. Tampa General offers patients access to more clinical trials and new cancer treatments, as well as expertise in rare cancers.

Cancer Center of Florida is led by Drs. Abraham and Tayla Schwarzberg. Dr. Abraham Schwarzberg now serves as the chief of oncology and senior vice president of network development at Tampa General Hospital.

The partnership has been in place for more than a year, but only recently has Tampa General begun touting it.

More partnerships are in the works.

During the next several weeks, Tampa General will unveil links with endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists and even primary care practices in Palm Beach and Martin counties, Couris said.

When Tampa General takes over administrative and back-office services, doctors have more time to spend on patients. But Couris said east coast physicians that partner with Tampa General are under no obligation to refer patients to the state’s west coast.

He said the partnership simply gives patients another choice outside of hospitals in Palm Beach County.

For serious or complicated matters, Couris said patients might also prefer the three-hour drive to Tampa General instead of going south to the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial, which also offers high-level specialty services.

While Couris said he likes Miami, “Tampa is a very easy city to navigate, much easier than Miami.”

 

Source:  Palm Beach Post

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