TARPON SPRINGS – Major changes are on the horizon for Florida Hospital North Pinellas, a medical facility that has been part of the Tarpon Springs community for more than 90 years and has undergone several changes over the decades.
During a public work session with city officials on June 21, the hospital’s new president and CEO, Jason Dunkel, announced plans for a $30 million expansion of the 168-bed facility at 1395 S. Pinellas Ave. Dunkel also requested a 30-year extension of Florida Hospital’s lease on the hospital’s city-owned buildings and the land under them, which isn’t scheduled to expire until September 2040.
The Orlando-based Florida Hospital network of not-for-profit medical centers is owned and operated by the Adventist Health System, part of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
During his opening remarks Dunkel, a Tampa native and former vice president of business development for the hospital, said the reason behind the lease extension is to ensure the hospital remains a vital component of the community for a long time.
“Tonight, is really about understanding what our long-term relationship looks like,” Dunkel told a group that included the City Commission and the City Manager Mark LeCouris. “It’s a long-term partnership. Florida Hospital North Pinellas plans on being here for a long, long time … because we’re more than a hospital. We’re integrated in the community. Renegotiating the lease beyond 2040 gives us a century-long commitment, and we’re excited about that.”
Dunkel went on to outline the requested terms of the agreement, which would run from September 2040 to August 2070. In addition to continuing rent payments as outlined in the current lease agreement, Florida Hospital North Pinellas would make a lump sum payment in 2040 of $3 million to the city as prepaid rent for the 30-year extension. The agreement also included two renewal options as well as provisions allowing hospital officials to make health care service decisions and facility improvements and potentially change the name at the hospital’s discretion.
The five commissioners said they had no issues with the proposed terms of the agreement but want the name of the late Helen Ellis to remain on the hospital. What was originally known as Tarpon Springs General Hospital was renamed Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital to honor the longtime member of the hospital’s volunteer auxiliary. Her husband, the late banker A.L. “Al” Ellis, made charitable donations to improve the facility in the 1980s.
“Yes,” Dunkel replied when Mayor Chris Alahouzos asked him if the Ellis name would remain associated with the hospital.
Dunkel and Bruce Bergherm, senior executive officer of acute care for the West Florida Division Adventist Health System, said the expansion plans include an 18,000-square-foot emergency room, 21 private pa-tient rooms, a full-service laboratory, an ambulance bay parking area separate from public parking and a sleek new look for the front of the building that would conform to current storm safety codes.
“Our intention is to spend up to $30 million dollars, starting immediately, to upgrade the emergency room and the exterior of the building,” Bergherm said.
Dunkel said work on the new ER would begin in early spring of 2019, with an estimated completion time of one year, while the exterior upgrades would begin soon after and take roughly 16 months to finish.
After no objections to the lease extension were heard, City Manager Mark LeCouris said the attorneys would draft the official proposal to be formally presented to the commission for first reading on July 24.
“We want a long-term relationship with the city to provide quality service to the community and make the hospital the best hospital we can,” Bergherm said in thanking city officials for given the extension the unofficial go-ahead.
“This is a special place, and it deserves the best hospital,” he added.
After the session, Alahouzos said the various improvements Florida Hospital is planning makes the lease extension a “win-win situation” for both sides.
“It’s good for the hospital, it’s good for the city, and it’s good for the people of Tarpon Springs,” Alahouzos said.
In additional news, Florida Hospital North Pinellas announced in a statement it would discontinue offering obstetric services in early July. Administrators, the statement said, have “cared deeply” about maternity services at the hospital and had “wholeheartedly invested in over the last several years.”
“However, it is evident our community is seeking obstetric health care services from other providers in the area,” it said.
The hospital, however, will continue to provide gynecological, urogynecological, urological and colorectal care for women. In addition, the hospital’s emergency room and its free-standing emergency room in the Palm Harbor area will continue to provide services to mothers-to-be.
Pregnant women who are scheduled to deliver babies in the Florida Hospital North Pinellas obstetrics unit after July 5 will be referred to other local hospitals for continued care.