The region’s community hospital

OldStoryImageNorth Florida Regional Medical Center is a community in many ways. In the average day, 2,200 staff members serve 300 patients. And each unit—from the Emergency Room to the Orthopedic Floor—is its own neighborhood. Medical Director Dr. Scott Medley epitomizes the hospital’s hands-on approach. As he travels from unit to unit, staff members greet him warmly. When he runs into a patient he knows, he asks how the patient is doing and promises to check on him later.

This wholesome environment is what North Florida strives for, says Matt Davis, chief operating officer. “We’re now the only community hospital in Gainesville, and we want to be people’s hospital of choice,” he says.

North Florida’s role differs from that of Shands at UF, which is an academic medical center. Shands is staffed entirely by faculty physicians from the University of Florida and interns and residents affiliated with the school. As a community hospital, North Florida does not have a staff of doctors. Instead, it grants private physicians “privileges” to practice there.

Another key difference: As a for-profit, private facility, North Florida pays property taxes. Indeed, it is the second largest real estate taxpayer in Alachua County, behind the Oaks Mall. In total, North Florida had a nearly $195 million impact on the economy in 2010. That includes:

  • More than $128 million in salaries and benefits;
  • Over $3 million in local property tax and more than $2 million in sales taxes;
  • Capital investments of over $13 million; and
  • Purchases from local vendors of more than $19 million.
  • On top of that, the hospital pays more than $10 million in state and federal taxes.

Expansive Growth Underway

North Florida’s impact on the community will continue to grow, officials say, as it expands in size, the scope of its services and employment.

When the current three-year construction phase is finished, North Florida will be 28 percent larger (rising from 325 to 445 beds) and its parent company, HCA, will have invested $120 million.

That growth was partly fueled by the 2009 closing of Shands at AGH, Gainesville’s only other community hospital. As that closing neared, AGH physicians began moving to North Florida, bringing their patients with them. Now, a total of 20 physicians who had practiced at AGH are part of the North Florida team.

“The need for our services has increased, and we are working as hard as we can to meet that need,” says Marketing Director Pamela Rittenhouse. “Each day, our patient rooms are full.”

Another reason for the hospital’s heavy caseload is the increasing demand across the 17-county area it serves. The gradual aging of the area’s population is pushing demand, Medley says. “The patients we see are older and sicker than ever before,” he says.

High-Tech Care

New technology the hospital is installing is also attracting more patients. The high-tech equipment includes:

  • The CyberKnife, which delivers radiation precisely to tumors and spares surrounding tissue, allowing cancer patients who cannot be operated on to be treated;
  • Two daVinci surgical systems that use robotics to perform delicate procedures, including removing bladder, prostate and kidney cancer through tiny incisions;
  • Other robotic devices that help surgeons be more precise in conducting spine surgery and knee surgery.

Not all advances in patient care involve new technology. North Florida’s Chest Pain Unit is an example. The unit, located next to the Emergency Department, provides concentrated services to patients who arrive reporting chest pain. “Our doctors and staff can quickly run tests that let them determine if a cardiovascular problem is causing their chest pain,” Medley says.

“For patients with blocked arteries, we can do heart catheterization promptly,” he says. On the other hand, many of the first 1,200 patients in the unit didn’t have cardiovascular problems. They were experiencing unrelated problems, and we were able to give them medication and send them home without admitting them to the hospital.

“We saved many hospital bed days because of the Chest Pain Unit,” Medley says. “We love to prevent people from coming into the hospital if they don’t need to be here.”

The hospital’s growth has been carefully planned, with the extensive involvement of stakeholders. For example, “When we plan a cardiac catheterization lab, we listen to our cardiologists because they’re the experts in what we need,” Medley says.

The Hub of a Medical Campus

The hospital is the center of a medical park that includes many outpatient clinics. North Florida is a partner with physicians in several of the surrounding clinics, including those devoted to heart and lung disease, gynecology cancer, family practice, internal medicine and senior health care.

Many tests and treatments are conducted in outpatient settings. For example, Invision Imaging performs MRIs, CT scans and PET/CT scans; and Digestive Disease Associates does colonoscopies.

Independently owned businesses in the medical park include an eye surgery center and clinics for weight loss and a variety of other specialties.

Davis credits David Coffey and Bob Rowe, the original developers of the area, with having the foresight to see the need for a large medical park.

When the hospital’s current expansion is finished, North Florida will be out of room for future growth. That means at some point, the hospital may need to build additional facilities at another location, Davis says.

“Each year at North Florida Regional creates change as we expand and grow, but one thing stays the same,” he says. “Our passion for our patients perseveres.

“If we need to look for other locations to continue that commitment and mission, that is what we will do.”

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