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Adventist partnership raises USF's medical profile

TAMPA - One of Florida's major hospital chains on Monday launched a partnership with the University of South Florida, immediately boosting the ambitious medical school's profile. USF faculty and physicians will provide hands-on care and research at four of the seven area Florida hospitals, including the Pepin Heart Institute in Tampa. Initially, expertise will be limited to cardiology, breast health, neuroscience and surgical cancer care. Adventist Health System, the Winter Park-based owner of 22 Florida hospitals, will invest $14 million over three years for faculty, fellows, medical residents and staff at USF, which has no teaching hospital of its own. In return, USF's colleges of medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and physician's group gain access to new patients and data, said John Harding, president and chief executive officer of Florida Hospital Tampa Bay division.
"One of the things we have for USF is a lot of patients," he said. "We can feed them a lot of information." Just as important to USF may be a higher public profile for the 40-year-old medical school that historically partnered only with Tampa General Hospital. Monday's announcement is the second time in 16 months USF Health struck deals with private hospital chains that reach outside of the Tampa Bay area. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health, said the partnerships defy traditional, political alliances. But USF's success depends on creative private partnerships and independent ventures, he said. "We have to stop being fragmented in this community," Klasko said. "You don't become the best in the country because of (an affiliation with) one hospital." Harding said Florida Hospital isn't recruiting physicians from other local hospitals. But some have asked about the partnership that will allow some hospital physicians the ability to teach and conduct research at USF. USF Health remains a major presence in nearly every department at Tampa General, hospital spokesman John Dunn said. That includes the $33 million, seven-story USF Health South Tampa Center for Advanced Healthcare located at the Tampa General downtown campus. "We don't expect any diminishing of services," Dunn said Monday. "This announcement was not made at our expense." Klasko, an obstetrician with an MBA, is passionate about this aggressive business approach to medicine. It's behind downtown's new USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, and a 2010 partnership with the for-profit HCA Healthcare chain to create five trauma centers across Florida. "We believe that USF is one of the best in the country," Klasko said. "Yes, we will be talking to and participating with everybody." It's also why Monday's event featured a Who's Who of local politicians and economic development leaders from Hillsborough and Pasco counties. They learned that Klasko and Florida Hospital leaders first discussed partnerships in 2009, more than a year before the non-profit bought the former University Community Hospital facilities. "The conversation was never should we or could we come together, but how can we," said Michael Schultz, chief executive officer for Adventist Health System's Florida region. Klasko said the partnership will the Pepin Heart Institute could speed up USF's ability to break ground in research areas such as genomics, or the study of how personal DNA affects health. The partnership, however, is not officially linked to USF's proposed $7 million heart institute approved last week by Florida's legislators. Charles Lambert, medical director of the Pepin Heart Institute, said adding academic researchers and students to the hospital will only improve the level of care and quality of research. "It's always better having the fellows, the students and residents," Lambert said. "They ask questions and you have to be on your toes with these guys." mshedden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7365  
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