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HealthSouth troubles haven't reached Tampa Bay area, local centers say

By KRIS HUNDLEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2003

HealthSouth Corp. may be crumbling under the weight of a federal investigation into an alleged multibillion-dollar accounting scheme by its founder and top executives, including nine who have pleaded guilty to wrongdoing. But officials with HealthSouth's operations in the Tampa Bay area say things are just hunky-dory.

The Birmingham, Ala., company has 18 outpatient rehab centers, one outpatient surgery center and two rehab hospitals locally, including one in Brooksville that opened a week ago. Elaine Ebaugh, administrator of the company's Largo hospital, said she has had questions from doctors, patients, vendors and employees, but her 70-bed facility is nearly full.

"We're really all in shock," said Ebaugh, a 14-year veteran of HealthSouth. She met Richard Scrushy, the recently ousted chairman accused of masterminding the company's financial shenanigans, during his 1996 visit to Largo. "He was certainly an incredible, motivating leader," she said, "someone we were proud to work for."

In other parts of the country, HealthSouth isn't faring as well. At HealthSouth surgery centers in other locations, doctors who are part owners in the business are trying to remove the HealthSouth name or jettison the partnership.

That's not the case here, said Patsy Conyer, administrator of the outpatient surgery center on Pasadena Avenue. "We actually had a rise in cases last month," she said. "Our physicians have been very supportive."

Thirty-eight local doctors own 1 percent or less of HealthSouth's St. Petersburg Surgery Center, while the company holds 65 percent.

One of the doctor-partners, St. Petersburg ophthalmologist Richard D. Smith, has been reading about HealthSouth's troubles in the newspaper, but said it's had no effect on his surgery schedule.

"That facility was here long before HealthSouth and it will continue long after them," Smith said, noting that the center had two corporate owners before HealthSouth bought it in 1996. "I'm not happy about HealthSouth's problems, but the doctors on the staff consider it our local center. That's the way we always looked at it and still do."

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