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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 12, 2019 4 months ago

As population grows, area sees influx of new health care facilities

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A trio of health care entities — through a variety of expansion projects miles apart — carries a heightened sense of urgency to attract more patients in the Lakewood Ranch area.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Lakewood Ranch, in Manatee and Sarasota counties, is on a well-documented growth spurt, from new senior living facilities to schools to expanding businesses. John Burns Real Estate Consulting and RCLCO Real Estate Advisors both named the 31,000-acre master-planned community, with some 36,000 residents, No. 2 in the U.S. in 2018 home sales. 

The growth isn’t limited to new homes and chain restaurants. Driven by demand, health care options have expanded, too. Three health care organizations lead the charge in the area, from emergency rooms and urgent care centers to physician offices and hospital facilities. A glance at the strategies shows each organization has different models but a guiding principle: chasing people.  

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center recently marked the grand opening of a 14-month,  $28.5 million expansion project.

CEO Andy Guz says the organization, owned by suburban Philadelphia-based, publicly traded hospital firm Universal Health Services, has several reasons for expansion. “No. 1, it’s no secret Lakewood Ranch as a community is expanding,” he says. “As the only hospital in Lakewood Ranch, we obviously need to keep up with that demand.”

In communicating with physicians, Guz says some with offices in Sarasota or Bradenton told the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center team they are expanding their practices into Lakewood Ranch to accommodate patients. Those patients have told them they’d like to use the hospital, too.

That information, along with other statistics, helped the organization decide it was time to expand. To determine what the expansion would include specifically, Guz says it compared numbers from 2010 with current hospital data. “Every one of our service lines had grown by double digits in that time,” he says. “We looked to where we could get the most capacity.”

One area was surgeries. “Surgeries especially have grown very rapidly over the last several years,” Guz says. Since 2010, surgeries are up 67%.

“I don’t see the Lakewood Ranch area slowing down in terms of growth and people moving into the area. We’re a lot less seasonal than we were even five years ago.” — Andy Guz, CEO, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center

As part of the expansion, two additional operating rooms opened in March. Lakewood Ranch Medical Center is thinking ahead to the next round of growth, too. Exterior walls of two more operating rooms have been built, so whenever the center needs to expand again, it only needs to outfit the interior of the rooms. “We’re trying to plan for the future,” Guz says. “I don’t see the Lakewood Ranch area slowing down in terms of growth and people moving into the area. We’re a lot less seasonal than we were even five years ago.”

Guz says this expansion is being called phase one and that more growth is ahead, both in terms of building size and services it offers. “I think the biggest challenge as we grow — and this is probably true of any business — [is] we want to maintain the same level of care, of quality, of patient experience that we have before,” he says. Part of that will mean monitoring metrics on a daily basis to evaluate quality and patient satisfaction. Guz says, “I think the proof’s in the pudding.”

As other health care entities capitalize on the area’s growth, competition, too, will be a factor. “There’s going to be competition no matter what your business is, especially in Lakewood Ranch,” Guz says. “We expect that to happen. We put our best foot forward, and that’s the reason we’re doing all of these things. We know there’s going to be demand out there. We want to be the best health care in Lakewood Ranch and surrounding communities.”

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System

The strategy is clear for Sarasota Memorial Health Care System: provide quality health care to patients in every area using the system.

SMH President and CEO David Verinder says his team continues to monitor where patients are coming from. “We’ve always had a very strong presence out of Manatee County that uses Sarasota Memorial,” he says. “It’s a big part of our business that comes from there as our national reputation continues to grow and strength of our services continue to grow.”

In fiscal year 2018, the system had more than 82,000 visits from people who live in the Lakewood Ranch area — 44,000 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and its outpatient centers and 38,000 at its First Physicians Group physician network offices.  

About a decade ago, the system embarked on a strategy of taking its services to its patients where they are. In doing so, SMH now has a strong presence at Honore Avenue and University Parkway in north Sarasota near Lakewood Ranch. Facilities there include physicians’ offices, imaging/radiology services, an urgent care center and a radiation oncology center under construction. The urgent care location is one of SMH's busiest urgent care centers, along with one in Venice.

“When we started the whole urgent care strategy around 10 years ago, the strategy was to decompress our ER,” Verinder says. It worked; the urgent care centers help lower patients’ wait times and lower costs for both patients and the system. 

Meanwhile, at State Road 70 and Lorraine Road in Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System recently built more medical offices. Those offices address what Verinder says is one of the biggest opportunities in the area for the system: “Right now, we believe it’s expanding our primary care footprint.”

Verinder doesn’t look at other health care options in Lakewood Ranch and the surrounding area as competition. “We believe people have a choice and should have choices of where they go,” he says. “Our goal is to just offer the highest level of quality care and try to be as convenient as possible and let the patients choose where they want to go.”

Doctors Hospital of Sarasota

Doctors Hospital of Sarasota opened a new emergency room in Lakewood Ranch in March 2018. 

The facility’s opening meant adding about 40 full-time jobs between nursing, physicians, radiology, lab services and X-rays. Publicly traded hospital company HCA Healthcare, based in Nashville, owns Doctors Hospital. 

Like other health care organizations targeting the area, Doctors Hospital is drawn by the droves of people coming to Lakewood Ranch — and those already here. “I really think we were looking to be the provider of choice along the growing I-75 corridor with all of the community growth out there,” Doctors COO Peter Hemstead says.

Traffic — in terms of visitors to the emergency room that’s open 24/7 — is doing well, Hemstead says. “We’ve received a lot of good feedback from the community."

In the quest to provide better care, Doctors Hospital also analyzes average emergency room wait times. Hemstead says the goal is quality but also for patients to be seen quickly. The target? A zero-minute wait time, but that’s not always possible. “We like to see it around four to five minutes — that’s really a goal,” he says. “We’re taking care of people efficiently and really giving people a choice in that community.”

Doctors Hospital is marketing the State Road 70 ER in a variety of ways, including mailings to the area's booming new home communities. The location and prominent signage on the building also helps get the word out. “That location right off of I-75 is really helpful for people,” Hemstead says. The location was purposely chosen because it would provide the emergency room with high visibility and high traffic.

Hemstead says Doctors Hospital and HCA like to compete on quality. One way it does that is through HCA’s network that allows Doctors Hospital to access a warehouse of clinical medical data about best practices. “That’s how we distinguish and elevate ourselves over competition,” he says. “We have the unique capability of being able to look across markets and look across states to aggregate sets of data.” That data allows them to determine what it thinks is best for the patient. 

Also, when Hemstead thinks of the impact of Doctors Hospital’s expansion, he likes to consider things from a personal level. “I think about my child,” he says. “Wherever I am, I want to have a close option for great care.”

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