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Hospital troubles lead to speculation

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  • | 11:00 a.m. October 2, 2015
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Sarasota Memorial Hospital, already the largest health care organization in the Sarasota-Bradenton region, is always on the lookout for growth opportunities, says its spokeswoman, Kim Savage. 

It looks like one of those opportunities could be taking shape: A potential acquisition of Venice Regional Bayfront Health, a 312-bed medical center in south Sarasota County.

Venice Regional, owned by Community Health Systems, a Franklin, Tenn.-based hospital giant, has had a difficult spring and summer. The low point came in May, when regulators tagged the hospital for not properly cleaning up the facility after a large sewage spill. By July, CEO Peter Wozniak, who had run the hospital since January 2010, had resigned.

Savage, in a statement sent to the Business Observer, acknowledges the problems at “Venice Regional have renewed community interest and discussion about the possibility of” SMH trying to buy it or build a facility in the area. “While such inquiries have triggered discussion among our staff and board,” Savage adds, “management discussions, documents and any plans related to strategic planning are confidential.”

An SMH board member tells Coffee Talk that Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder has written several letters of interest to Community Health about a potential acquisition. Savage didn't confirm those letters.

On growth opportunities, the nonprofit community hospital system, with a $563.9 million operating budget, has expanded into five communities within Sarasota-Bradenton over the last decade through urgent care clinics and other facilities. Venice is one of those communities.

Also, SMH tried to buy Venice Regional at least once before. That was in 2005, when Bon Secours Health System sold the hospital to Naples-based Health Management Associates. Community Health Systems bought HMA in 2013.  

Several health care officials in the region have confirmed they too have heard talk of a possible deal. That list includes officials at the other large medical facility in Sarasota — Doctors Hospital. “I think they have the money, they have to decide whether they want to spend it there,” Doctors Hospital COO Steve Young tells Coffee Talk. “I think it's quasi-plausible.”

Venice Regional spokesman Bob Hite declines to comment, saying hospital policy is to not confirm or deny rumors. Venice businessman George Pickhardt, chairman of the Venice Regional board, tells Coffee Talk he hasn't heard anything about a possible sale to SMH, or any entity. Pickhardt says Community Health is investing millions into the hospital, and a sale has never come up in discussions with the company or in monthly meetings with Wozniak.


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