USF medical school requests its own hospital

A bill would allow it to build one on campus.

By Lisa Greene, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2008

TAMPA - The University of South Florida medical school wants to build its own teaching hospital to reach its goal of becoming a top research university, USF leaders said Wednesday.

A bill filed for the upcoming legislative session could bring that dream a giant step closer to reality. It would allow USF to build a hospital on its campus without getting key permission from state regulators.

"USF medical school, which is now about 40 years old, is one of the few medical schools in America that doesn't have its own hospital," said state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, who sponsored the bill after meeting with Dr. Stephen Klasko, medical school dean.

Instead, USF's graduate medical students train and its faculty doctors are on staff at several Tampa Bay area hospitals. Tampa General Hospital is its primary teaching hospital.

A hospital would allow USF to recruit more high-profile faculty members, increase the number of its residents and generate revenue, making it less dependent on state funding, Klasko said Wednesday.

"We are looking at how we can be a vehicle to make Tampa into a greater health care city," he said. "I think it's my responsibility to make sure that this great city has one of the best academic health systems in the country."

What's less clear is how USF's teaching partners, especially at Tampa General, feel about the idea of a new, possibly competing hospital in their back yard.

Ron Hytoff, Tampa General's president and chief executive, declined to answer questions. Instead, he issued a written statement.

"This has created a new wrinkle in an already complicated situation that we are in the process of evaluating," Hytoff said. "Since USF is our strategic partner we do not want to rush to judgment. We are carefully assessing the details of this bill and maintaining a dialogue with the university."

At All Children's Hospital, which teaches USF residents, president and CEO Gary Carnes wasn't available late Wednesday for comment.

If the bill passes, USF wouldn't have to get a state Certificate of Need for the hospital, but it still would have to get the approval of state education officials.

If USF builds its own hospital, it would be a "small but focused" hospital with about 200 beds. It wouldn't take residency slots away from its existing partners, Klasko said. Such signature programs as maternal-fetal medicine would stay at Tampa General, he said.

Nor would it try to imitate H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute or All Children's Hospital.

"Everything we've been talking about would be done cooperatively with Moffitt and Tampa General and All Children's," Klasko said. "It's not meant to be a substitute for them."

Florida already has too few doctors in certain specialties, partly because its residency programs aren't large enough, Jones said. Medical students in Florida often leave the state after they graduate to get further training and never return.

"They would have a catalyst to draw residents from other parts of the U.S.," Jones said. "Even in Pinellas County now, we only have four or five neurosurgeons in a county with a million people."

USF has about 600 residents. Adding a hospital could add 30 to 100 spaces. It would allow USF to revive its defunct anesthesiology program, as well as provide more training in radiology, pathology and orthopedics, Klasko said.

In today's tight budget climate, funding the hospital could be hard. USF might issue bonds or even bring in another hospital as a partner, Klasko said.

But, he said, a hospital would profit USF.

"The ability to garner revenues is a very important part of not having to depend on the state," he said. "I would look at this as exactly what we ought to be doing."

Lisa Greene can be reached at greene@sptimes.com or(813) 226-3322.