St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Teaching, trauma costs blamed

A study finds that much of TGH's financial losses come from services it offers that other area hospitals don't.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2000


TAMPA -- As Tampa General Hospital lost more and more money last year, no one running the region's leading teaching and trauma hospital knew what to do.

The hospital's board had not received key financial data on time from its own chief executive officer. When the board did get the grim financial news, they could not come up with a strategy for turning Tampa General's finances around.

That's the picture unveiled Monday by a health-care consultant paid by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to assess Tampa General's financial future. The report, prepared by TriBrook Healthcare Consultants, also shows why the board was at a loss about what to do.

The hospital's worsening finances were largely out of its own control, the report shows. Tampa General lost about $12.5-million from four money-losing services -- its trauma center, burn unit, transplant programs and neonatal intensive care unit -- that other area hospitals don't offer.

An increasing number of patients who need those services can't afford to pay for them, the report said. There wasn't any serious mismanagement, excessive waste or inflated contracts for a hospital TGH's size, the report found.

Instead, Tampa General got squeezed because more poor patients came to its door. Because of its status as a former public hospital, TGH can't turn those patients away. So last year, it lost about $44-million treating patients who qualify for help from government medical programs. That was a $10.5-million increase from three years ago.

The news was even worse: As one of six teaching hospitals in Florida, Tampa General also lost about $19.2-million training medical students from the University of South Florida.

At the end of February, the hospital already had lost $10.7-million this year -- putting it on pace to lose a staggering $21-million by the end of the fiscal year in October.

If that happens, the hospital will violate its agreement with its New York bond insurer, and another consultant will swoop in to recommend slashing medical services.

With the report in hand, the chamber's chairman-elect, former Gov. Bob Martinez, will fly to Tallahassee this morning to lobby legislators for financial help. Martinez wants the state to pay TGH another $11-million for training medical students and about $17-million for providing essential medical services like the burn unit and trauma center.

The report bolsters one of Martinez's central arguments; it shows that about half of TGH's patients don't come from Hillsborough County.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.