Hospital chief to move up, away

Published May 10, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - After 11 years as chief executive officer, Brooksville Regional Hospital's Tom Barb is leaving.

Barb, 59, has been named CEO of St. Cloud Regional Medical Center, another facility owned by Health Management Associates in Naples.

There, he will also represent HMA in a joint venture with Orlando Regional Healthcare to build a new health facility in Oviedo. That facility is currently stuck in litigation with rival hospital chain HCA.

The announcement was made public Wednesday, but initially given Tuesday at a Hernando HealthCare board meeting, the governing body of sister hospitals Brooksville and Spring Hill Regional.

"I'll miss a lot of people, " Barb said. "We've made a lot of friends here. But sometimes it's good to start over again. Change is good for everyone."

With 35 years of experience in health care management, Barb took over as Brooksville Regional chief in 1996. At the time, the Brooksville hospital was owned by bankrupt Regional Healthcare Inc.

Regional Healthcare consisted of Brooksville and Spring Hill regional hospitals and PineBrook Regional Medical Center. While leading negotiations, Barb announced in 1998 that HMA had bought Regional Healthcare. The move brought the hospitals out of five years of bankruptcy proceedings.

The next battle for Barb came in 2001, when HCA, owner of Oak Hill Hospital, appealed HMA's construction approval to build a new Brooksville facility.

After another five years, the $53-million gleaming white facility was finally built. The new 120-bed Brooksville Regional, which the county owns, sits on 30 acres of a sprawling 133-acre site.

The new location on Cortez Boulevard puts the hospital closer to Hernando County's large westside population and the fast-growing corridor along the Suncoast Parkway.

While proud of the new hospital, Barb said that he will never forget those emotional times. Nor will he forget all the people. "I remember when we got the approval, " Barb said. "We had staff crying at the old hospital. It was a real emotional high to go from being the oldest hospital in town one day to the newest the next."

Barb will begin working in St. Cloud May 21, which is also when his replacement begins at Brooksville. Sebastian River Medical Center chief executive Kathy Burke will take his place.

With more than 30 years of experience in clinical and administrative health care, Burke has been chief at Sebastian River, also a Health Management Associates-owned hospital, since 2001.

But Barb is quick to note that he's not going to be gone for good.

He and his wife, Sharon, are looking for a new home, but are sure that they will come back to Hernando County when it's time to retire.

"I'm saying goodbye to people as I run into them, but I won't be done for a while, " Barb said. "And I'm hearing something about a party. I don't know exactly what's going on, but I figure at some point someone will ask me when I'm available."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.