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Troubled hospital's suitor enjoys a history of financial know-how

University Community Hospital, which plans to affiliate with Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, brings a "strong balance sheet'' into the deal.

By DIANE STEINLE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- University Community Hospital of Tampa hasn't been around as long as Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, but it is no newcomer to health care.

UCH, which this week signed a letter of intent to take over Helen Ellis in Tarpon Springs, was founded in the 1960s by several Tampa businessmen who saw a need for a hospital in growing, but still rural, north Hillsborough County.

In the years since, UCH has established a reputation for solid financial performance. In an era when many medical facilities are struggling or closing, UCH was able to walk into Tarpon Springs this week and offer $24-million upfront to pay off Helen Ellis' debts.

Calvin Glidewell, vice president of development for UCH, credits a smart board of trustees that invested the hospital's money wisely and did well in the stock market, resulting in a "strong balance sheet."

And getting Helen Ellis would only improve that balance sheet, if hospital officials' predictions are accurate.

UCH looks at Helen Ellis and sees a hospital in a good location to serve the booming population in North Pinellas, southern Pasco and the Citrus Park area of northwest Hillsborough County.

"It seemed to make sense that we develop a relationship with Helen Ellis," Glidewell said. "It's an exciting opportunity for us."

Though Helen Ellis is mired in debt, has laid off workers, has a declining number of patients and had faced the dismal prospect of eventually defaulting on its bonds, Glidewell is confident that UCH can turn things around quickly.

He said he expects Helen Ellis to be in the black soon after UCH takes over. How? The burden of $24-million in debts and annual $2.4-million interest payments on that debt would be wiped out. Plus, the hospital could take advantage of substantial economies of scale as it joined UCH in purchasing equipment and supplies, Glidewell said.

Under a letter of intent that UCH signed with the Tarpon Springs Hospital Foundation on Monday, UCH would pay off the $24-million and also pay $250,000 a year to lease the city-owned hospital property.

Details of the affiliation between Helen Ellis and UCH will be laid out in an affiliation agreement still being negotiated between the two groups and expected to be signed within 30 days.

UCH then must negotiate a lease with the city, and that lease must be approved by city voters.

UCH's main hospital campus, opened in 1968 near the University of South Florida on Fletcher Avenue, is leased from Hillsborough County. That campus is licensed for 431 beds. Six years ago, UCH purchased a medical center on North Dale Mabry. UCH-Carrollwood now has 120 beds.

UCH is a private, not-for-profit hospital operated by a 28-member board of trustees.

At its Tampa operations, UCH serves north Hillsborough and portions of southeast Pasco and treats patients from more than 30 managed care networks.

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