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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 1, 2021 9 months ago

Economic Forecast: Amid challenges of pandemic, health care system looks ahead to new hospital

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In the year ahead, SMH will also open a new cancer institute at its main campus in Sarasota.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Organization: This year, the first week of March was the busiest week in the 95-year history of Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, which operates an 839-bed flagship hospital and has some 7,000 staff members.

"We had 600 cars we couldn’t find parking spots for,” says President and CEO David Verinder. “Two weeks later, our volumes were down in half because the pandemic hit. We had to make a lot of changes very, very quickly in a very dramatic way.”

Despite the many challenges the public health system has faced since March, officials remain excited about some developments coming in 2021, what Verinder says will be "the biggest year in the 95-year history of our growth." One big example: The community's new hospital in Venice, now under construction, is expected to open in the in the fourth quarter. “It’s the first hospital we’ve built since the main campus," Verninder says. "It brings a whole new market to us, and it brings a whole new service to a community.”

In the year ahead, SMH will also open a new cancer institute at its main campus in Sarasota. Breaking ground on a new behavioral health hospital, possibly in summer 2021, could be on the docket as well.

The organization, Verinder says, has doubled in size in employees, revenue and volume of patients over the last five years. “I think we’ll do it again over next five years,” he says.

Opportunities: For the health care industry as a whole, the coronavirus will remain a main theme. “I think, unfortunately, the pandemic is going to dominate it for the next year,” says Verinder. “I think health care in general has learned a lot during the pandemic. It’s learned how to do telemedicine better and research quicker. At end of the day, we will be better off for those lessons learned.”

Threats: One of the biggest challenges ahead for the industry, says Verinder, will also be pandemic-related: distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. “My biggest fear is people not taking it,” he says. “If we have a big part of the population that’s going to be an anti-vaccine population, we’re going to just keep suffering through this for a long time.”

SMH will play a key role in communicating information about the vaccine. I think we’re going to step up and try to play a leadership role in that,” says Verinder. That will involve educating the community about the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety, with messages coming from both physicians and community leaders.

Another long-term challenge for the Sarasota area is the growing number of people moving to the region who will put more demand on the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System. “How do we continue to meet the needs of the community?” says Verinder. “How do we position ourselves to keep changing and keep growing? It’s a good problem to have.”

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