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Behind the scenes of a transformative $50M hospital donation

The children of health care providers decided the best way to honor their parent's life work was a donation to a children's hospital.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. April 16, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
St. Joseph's Children's Hospital medical personnel line up to present flowers to the Pagidipati family.
St. Joseph's Children's Hospital medical personnel line up to present flowers to the Pagidipati family.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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When Stephanie Conners visited the Tampa home of Sidd Pagidipati in November she didn’t really know what to expect.

A month earlier, BayCare Health System had announced it was building a new standalone children’s hospital on St. Joseph’s Tampa campus. Not long after that, the local businessman and philanthropist called her saying he wanted to meet.

Armed with what she says were bold ideas to pitch, Conners, the president and CEO of BayCare, and Kate Sawa, the president of the St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation, made the trip to see him. 

Conners says Pagidipati listened to their ideas and then said no.

Stephanie Conners is the president and CEO of Bay Care Health System.
Photo by Mark Wemple

He, instead, wanted to talk about his parents. They were celebrating their 50th year of marriage and the 50th year in the United States. In honor of the dual milestones, the family wanted to make a donation to the children’s hospital foundation.

The amount the family wanted give: $50 million.

“When we walked outside, we just grabbed each other's hands,” Conners says.

“I would say, I don't know that we expected something so transformational and that monumental. But I can't say it surprised me knowing him, knowing his family. It just fits who they are. And they're truly special. They’re a special family.”

The thought

Devaiah Pagidipati, a Harvard-trained pediatric anesthesiologist, came first while his wife, Rudrama Pagidipati, a pathologist, finished her medical studies in India. The Pagidipati family initially settled in the United States in Memphis, Tennessee.

Devaiah at one point was the chief of anesthesiology at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis. Both have practiced medicine their whole adult lives and have run businesses focused on improving health care. That includes starting, and later selling, the HMO Freedom Health

The family moved to Florida in 1991, settling in Ocala. In 2005 they started Freedom Health.

The idea for the company, according to a 2009 Business Observer profile, came from personal experience. Rudrama had opened Suncoast Labs in Ocala in 1989 and needed to insure the lab's employees. Sidd reached out to a local broker.

The Pagidipati family donated $50 million to the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital Foundation.
Photo by Mark Wemple

“I waited between three and four weeks for a proposal, and what I got was outrageous: $400 per employee a month,” Sidd Pagidipati told the Observer.

They decided to go into the business themselves. Devaiah made connections within Florida's provider network while Sidd studied up on state statutes to learn what it would take to start the business.

Kiran Patel, another local doctor and philanthropist, bought the company in 2008.

A serial entrepreneur, Sidd went on to found Better Health Group. 

He says the seed of the idea for donating to the children’s hospital — his two children were born there — was planted during a tour of the existing facility last year, speaking with doctors and administrators and, later, learning of its plans.

The timing couldn’t have worked out better.

With their parent’s dual anniversaries approaching, Sidd, brother Rahul and sister Srujani wanted to mark the events with a big gift, something that showed their gratitude. A beach house was among the options.

But the parents didn’t want, or need, more.

What they wanted, Sidd says, was to do something that had a lasting impact and continued their lifelong work.

With that in mind, Sidd returned for a second tour of the children’s hospital, this time with his parents in tow.

“After we got home,” Sidd says, his father said: “Look, this is where I want us to invest our dollars. And this is where we can create a multi-generational impact, … and we have the ability to provide that investment.”

It’s important to note that he calls the money an investment, not a donation. That’s no accident nor is it a turn of phrase. He sees the money and the work the hospital does as improving the community for the future, getting medical care to kids who may otherwise not have access.

Devaiah Pagidipati, a Harvard-trained pediatric anesthesiologist, and Rudrama Pagidipati, a pathologist.
Photo by Mark Wemple

“First and foremost, I don't believe in charity,” he says. “I think it's the wrong word. I think the connotation is that we're giving people a handout and it almost feels putting down someone.  What I believe in is opportunity.

“We want to be able to help create equal opportunity for people to live the American dream. If you don't have your health, you're not going to have the ability to take advantage of opportunity.”

The gift

While $50 million is a whopping amount St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital was merely the second Florida hospital to announce a gift for that amount within a three week period.

On March 19, Baptist Health South Florida announced Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel, donated $50 million to build a new neuroscience center at one of the system’s local hospitals.

Baptist says Griffin’s donation was one of the 10 “largest health care-related philanthropic gifts in Florida in the last decade.” St. Joseph’s say the Pagidipati donation announced April 10 is believed to be one of the biggest in Tampa’s history.

The money is earmarked for a new children’s hospital that will be built on the Tampa campus of the BayCare Health System-owned hospital and is expected to open by 2030. When it is complete, it will be named the Pagidipati Children’s Hospital at St. Joseph’s. 

The new hospital, which BayCare announced in October, is part of a plan the health care system has “to enhance local pediatric expertise and to create a destination hospital for high-acuity pediatric services, research and medical innovation” in the region.

A part of that plan is growing its multi-specialty, non-hospital pediatric clinics for better access for patients and expanding its pediatric graduate medical education programs.

Conners says the goal is for the hospital to one day “be known nationally as one of the best places to receive child-first, family-centered care at the absolute highest-quality.”

As of right now, there aren’t many details available about how big the hospital will be, how many beds it will have or what the total cost will be. That’s because “we are still in the early planning stages and all that information is yet to be determined,” says a BayCare spokesperson.

Conners says the donation is unrestricted, which means the money will go toward “anything that's related to the children's hospital,” primarily construction.

“Our goal is, the more we can raise, the more we can put toward the ability for us to build this state-of-the-art, transformational, technologically advanced, innovative facility,” she says. “And we were really hoping that this is just the start of that.”

BayCare currently operates 16 hospitals and other medical offices in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties. It recently announced a new facility in Manatee County.

According to its 2022 Form posted on the nonprofit research company Candid GuideStar’s website, BayCare Health System net assets in the most recent fiscal year were $7.8 billion.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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