A new hospital is expected to open in Manatee County, but it’s still a few years out.
BayCare Health System plans to open the new location north of the Manatee River by the end of 2025. The system already operates 15 hospitals throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.
“BayCare has a pretty big regional footprint and when we make decisions to grow it’s really based on community need,” Keri Eisenbeis, BayCare’s vice president of government and community relations, says. “We’re not the only ones that have seen Manatee County has experienced a lot of growth, particularly that northern Manatee area.”
While construction details are finalized, BayCare is working to obtain the necessary zoning permits that will be needed for the project. But thanks to a legislative move by the state a couple of years ago, this step has been streamlined.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis repealed a large part of the certificate of need (CON) program, including the application process required for building a new hospital.
“Now we don’t have to get permission to open a hospital from the state,” Eisenbeis says. “Really it’s about working with local government partners, like those in Manatee County, to make sure that we’ve met all the building permit and land use requirements like you would any sort of project. We’re working closely with the sellers and Manatee County to work through that process and get approval to construct this hospital.”
Before, Eisenbeis says hospital systems would submit a lengthy application to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration and then spend time navigating through back-and-forth discussions. Depending on how quickly a hospital made it into the queue, how complex a project was and how many staff members were sifting through applications, this process would take months to get through, at a minimum. Now, hospitals just have to go through the step of getting approval from local partners, something required even before CON was repealed.
Even though the timeline for opening a hospital has been shortened, Eisenbeis isn’t sure it will dramatically increase the number of hospitals in the state.
“Opening a hospital is a pretty significant undertaking. It’s a huge capital investment,” she says. “Most hospitals cost over $100 million to build so you can’t just do that on a flip of a dime.”
“We’re just coming out of CON being eliminated and then two years where most hospitals were 100% focused on pandemic response. So the marketplace around this is really going to flush out over the next couple of years. You would think it would be counterintuitive to put hospitals on every corner because there’s such a significant financial undertaking. But the market just doesn’t know yet. This whole post-CON environment is a new one. We’re learning as we go as well.”
Recently, ShorePoint Venice Hospital, formerly known as Venice Regional Bayfront Health, announced it was closing. The hospital was undergoing a major renovation after stepping back from building a completely new hospital building. The first phase of the project began last fall. Work on the second phase was underway when the announcement was made Aug. 22.
The hospital will close Sept. 22.
The press release cited a new hospital in the area, specifically five miles away, and declining inpatient care demand for the reason. Though no names were mentioned, and a request for comment wasn’t returned by time of publication, Sarasota Memorial Hospital opened a 110-bed campus last November in Venice, roughly five miles away from ShorePoint’s campus.
The new hospital in Manatee County will be the organization’s 17th acute care hospital. A new hospital in Wesley Chapel expected to open March 2023 will be BayCare’s 16th. The health care system is also reinvesting in its legacy hospital, South Florida Baptist Hospital, in Plant City. That project will bring a new facility closer to Interstate 4 in early 2024. Currently, the size, costs, economic impact and timeline for the Manatee County hospital are undetermined. But the need for it is well understood.
“We provide the full continuum of access to care throughout you and your family’s life, which I think is needed in Manatee County,” she says. “Two areas of distinct needs in Manatee are access to pediatric health care and behavioral health services. (After) talking to some community members in Manatee, they’ve really shown a lot of excitement about those areas in particular.”
BayCare, which generates nearly $5 billion in annual revenue and has more than 27,700 team members, has made news in other ways of late: it recently named a new CEO. Stephanie Conners, previously executive vice president and COO at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, was appointed to the post in August. She replaces Tommy Inzina, who plans to retire by the end of the year. Clearwater-based BayCare, through the entity Baycare Health Systems Inc., has $7.84 billion in assets, according to public tax filing documents.
With the response for the new Manatee County being nothing but positive, the Business Observer asked Eisenbeis if there was a possibility for expansion into Sarasota County in the future.
“It’s hard to say. Sarasota is well served right now,” she says, adding it’s not on the nonprofit’s radar. “We’ve got a lot of big projects going on and Manatee (is) definitely an extensive of where we are geographically today. But we’ll see.”
This story was updated Sept. 16 with details on more hospital projects.