Hospital: We will do better

Facing criticism, Tampa General's leader promises more business for minority-owned companies.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 28, 2007

TAMPA - Tampa General Hospital will expand its efforts to do business with minority-owned companies in response to criticism about its poor record on that front.

TGH president and chief executive officer Ron Hytoff said Monday he will hire three full-time employees for the task, which is now handled by one part-timer.

Hytoff also said he will work with a group that helps companies identify and better work with minority-owned contractors and suppliers.

"I know we can do a better job, no doubt about it," Hytoff told the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, the government body that leases the publicly owned hospital property to its private operator. "I can pledge to you that we will do a better job."

Monday's meeting of the little-known authority board drew a crowd of about 50 people -large by its standards. Most were black, Hispanic or female business owners who said they would like to do work with TGH if they could just figure out how to get in the door.

Many were armed with a May St. Petersburg Times story detailing just how seldom the hospital contracts with minority businesses, particularly those owned by blacks.

The story, based on the hospital's own records, showed TGH awarded $140.2-million in construction contracts in the past two years ending in April. Much of that is part of a more than $160-million hospital expansion.

Awards to black-owned firms during that time: $4,599.

"We're not looking for a handout of set-asides," said Kim Jackson, owner of the public and media relations company KVJINC Consulting of Tampa, who helped organize the turnout and met with hospital officials beforehand. "We just want to be included."

When it comes to buying medical supplies and services, TGH failed to give any work to black-owned firms, despite awarding more than $21-million in contracts. Reginald J. Nickson, president and chief executive of Bayside Medical Supply Co., said he gets work with the federal government, but not TGH.

"We're here. We've been here. We're ready to do business," he said. "All we ask is for the opportunity to do so."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, who sits on the authority board, raised the issue with the board during its last quarterly meeting, setting up Monday's discussion.

He cited programs at hospitals in Detroit and south Florida that have had successes.

I don't want to cast aspersions at anybody," White said. "I just look at the numbers and the numbers speak for themselves."

Gerald White, a community activist who also sits on the authority board, said individual members have been raising the same issue for years.

He called the numbers disgusting.

When women-owned firms are included, construction contract awards compare more favorably with the hospitals Kevin White cited.

But that doesn't hold true for contract awards for goods and professional services.

Part of the problem, Hytoff said, is that past reports don't adequately reflect subcontractors for companies hired by TGH.

Indeed, the most recent quarterly report shows improvements on almost all fronts.

Hytoff acknowledged that minority contracting may not have been at the fore since he took over in 2000, inheriting oversight of a hospital that was losing money. Now TGH is making money.

Former state Sen. Les Miller currently oversees the hospital's efforts to improve so-called supplier diversity, but he also has a full-time job at the University of South Florida.

Hytoff said he will move quickly to find someone to do the job full time.

He said he anticipates hiring an assistant with higher-level skills capable of doing analyses and outreach, as well as a clerical worker.

"I take responsibility for everything you folks brought up," he said. "It's my responsibility. This has been an interesting wakeup call to me."

Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.