TAMPA - Tampa General Hospital is bidding to merge with Citrus County's publicly owned health system, marking the urban trauma center's first foray into health care consolidation. Tampa General's merger proposal will be considered Wednesday by the Citrus County Hospital Board. It is the only proposal that wouldn't involve a multimillion-dollar investment into the Inverness-based health system, according to a consultant's report presented to the board last month. The other four bids - three from for-profit hospital corporations and one from a private health care investment firm - submitted purchase prices of between $70 million and $133 million for Citrus Memorial Hospital and its affiliate facilities.
Significant debt led to Citrus Memorial's decision in 2012 to actively seek buyers or merger partners. The hospital, which is supported by Citrus County property taxes, has debt totaling more than $80 million, the board said on its website regarding the sale. More than a dozen health care groups were asked to make merger or purchase proposals. While nearly all other Tampa-area hospitals have been active with mergers and acquisitions in the past few years, Tampa General waited to make its first overt pitch to consolidate with another area health system, Steve Short, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said Monday. The 1,018-bed independent hospital offers buying power, operational expertise and clinical resources instead of millions in cash, Short said. That can help Citrus County's hospital maintain its local control and fix its financial footing; and Tampa General broadens its footprint to attract more business, he said. "It's not just that we think we are bigger and better," Short said. "We can benefit from them." Citrus Memorial, opened in 1957, is a licensed acute care hospital, with 198 patient beds. The system has grown to include walk-in clinics in Lecanto and Homosassa, as well as multiple diagnostic imaging centers and rehabilitation centers. The other bids include two companies with a significant footprint in the greater Tampa area. Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, owns 16 local hospitals and 162 nationwide. The Tennessee-based company is the largest publicly traded hospital system in the nation. Health Management Associates, which is bidding to buy or enter into a joint venture, runs six area hospitals. This year, it acquired St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center in a joint venture deal, adding to its national portfolio of 71 facilities. The third bidder, Regional Care Hospital Partners, is run by Warburg Pincus, a 35-year-old health care investment firm. Short said Wednesday's pitch - to be made by Tampa General President Jim Burkhart - is only the first of many potential steps toward a merger. If it doesn't work, Short said Tampa General will most certainly continue looking for potential partners, especially those that can complement and expand what they offer and who they serve. "Everybody in a stand-alone hospital is looking around," he said. "Healthcare in the future is going to be a process in managing lives ... in all kinds of settings. This is just one piece for us." [email protected] (813) 259-7365 Twitter: @MaryShedden