Noted philanthropist to close his foundation

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 8, 2008

TAMPA - After a five-year run, philanthropist Kiran Patel is closing the doors on his public Foundation for Global Understanding and returning to the managed health care business.

Patel said he will continue his support of health, education and cultural programs through a private foundation of the same name.

But he said he no longer wants to be involved in fundraising or answer to a board of directors.

"I like to be hands on," he said.

The cardiologist who made his fortune in the managed health care business also said he would rather direct the $200,000 a year he spends on the foundation's rent and three salaries directly to philanthropic efforts.

"It pains me to spend money in the name of a foundation when I can touch a lot more lives with that same money," he said. "It's a philosophical decision."

The annual cost of running the foundation, he said, could pay the yearly salaries of 10 doctors in Zambia, where Patel helped build a hospital last year.

Meanwhile, Patel is in the process of buying two Medicare HMOs based in the Tampa Bay area: Freedom Health Inc. and Optimum Healthcare Inc. The two companies are valued at $55-million, Patel said.

The deal still needs approval of the state's Office of Insurance Regulation.

Patel said he hopes to bring additional companies into the venture. "We could become a larger player and bring in efficiencies of operation and value," he said.

A noncompete agreement he signed when he sold WellCare Health Plans in 2002 has expired.

Patel acquired WellCare in 1992 and built it into a $1-billion business with more than 400,000 members. He sold it to a New York investment group. The new owners took the company public in 2004. WellCare is now under investigation by federal and state authorities, although the nature of the investigation is unclear.

Patel is one of the Bay area's most noted philanthropists. He donated $18.5-million to the University of South Florida to establish the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.