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Will All Children's Hospital join BayCare?

Persistent talk in St. Petersburg leads some to think the hospital may fill the void left by Bayfront.


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Even as BayCare Health System begins to divest itself of Bayfront Medical Center, city and hospital officials are raising the prospect that All Children's Hospital will join the alliance next.

If so, it could replace Bayfront, which was booted from the group last week because of an ongoing dispute with the city of St. Petersburg over its participation in BayCare.

All Children's is a private, non-profit pediatric hospital next to Bayfront, on land donated years ago by the city. St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said Monday that he has heard All Children's plans to join BayCare.

Council members Bob Kersteen, Bill Foster and Larry Williams said they have heard that, too, but couldn't independently verify it. Top officials at BayCare and All Children's vehemently deny any deal exists.

"We talk to lots of different people about different ways to partner," BayCare spokeswoman Amy Lovett said Monday. "There isn't anything substantive yet. If there is, we would tell you."

All Children's President Dennis Sexton could not be reached Monday. But asked Friday whether discussions or efforts were under way to bring All Children's into BayCare, he said no.

Sexton said the hospital had discussions with BayCare representatives before the group was formed and has communicated with BayCare "off and on" since then, but those talks focused on providing a regional network for pediatric care.

But rumors persist.

"It sounds like it's plausible. There has got to be some fact to it or this wouldn't have leaked," Kersteen said. "I hope it doesn't mean the demise of Bayfront hospital, because it's definitely a needed entity for the health care of the citizenry."

Six area non-profit hospitals formed BayCare in 1997 to save money by consolidating services, such as personnel and purchasing. BayCare board member John Welch said talk of All Children's joining resurfaced about six months ago.

"We're now established, it's a going concern, as opposed to being somebody's pipe dream," Welch said. "It's done well. It's certainly improved all of its partners economically."

Welch, who also serves on the Bayfront board, said the BayCare board of directors has not been asked to approve All Children's membership in the alliance, but he believes members would be amenable to it.

"They're going to get from BayCare the same kind of advantages that (Bayfront) would achieve from BayCare, plus they have that expertise in pediatric services that they can bring to BayCare," he said.

One possible conflict: A member of BayCare, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, already operates a pediatric unit called Tampa Children's Hospital. And Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health and medicine at the University of South Florida who has worked extensively with All Children's, said he doesn't think the St. Petersburg hospital needs BayCare's umbrella.

"All Children's is not facing the kinds of financial challenges that Bayfront did or St. Anthony's (Hospital) does because they have such a distinct and well-established niche in our market," he said.

All Children's and Sexton are internationally respected. The hospital is well-run and has an enviable staff of doctors, a fat foundation and broad community support, Wolfson said.

He said he could envision All Children's working with Tampa Children's to further children's care in the area, "but I would be surprised if All Children's would formally join the BayCare system. Right now I don't believe they need it."

When BayCare was formed, Bayfront was in financial turmoil and faced stiff competition from private hospitals. Its cross-town neighbor, St. Anthony's, joined, too, and the two have merged many services in the past three years. Since last week, however, hospital officials have been trying to determine how best to untangle their ties with St. Anthony's and the rest of BayCare.

Bayfront is private, but it sits largely on city-owned property and it was locked in a legal battle with the city over concessions it made to Catholic doctrine in order to participate in BayCare.

BayCare has two Catholic hospitals, and Bayfront ended elective abortions and made other concessions. City Council members objected, saying those concessions violated the separation of church and state. When the dispute couldn't be settled, BayCare ejected Bayfront.

Now talk of All Children's joining BayCare has stirred up St. Petersburg's medical community. Some suggested the rumor is based on fear-mongering about Bayfront's fate, while others said it simply fills the vacuum created by Bayfront's announcement last week.

"Right now, as of this moment, it's still rumor," Foster said. "But if you say it enough, people will start to believe it."

- Times staff writers Leonora LaPeter and Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this story.

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