Questions surround Vitera
TAMPA - Many companies making electronic medical record systems are bursting with business because the federal government is spending billions to help physicians go from paper to digital. Locally, USF Health is in the midst of an initiative, the PaperFree Florida program, to help physicians go digital. But a Tampa company once dominant in electronic medical records has laid off dozens and perhaps hundreds of workers this month even as it insists it's poised for a major growth spurt here. It's not clear how fortune changed for Vitera Healthcare Solutions of Tampa — or how many employees the company has let go since cuts began Feb. 9. Vitera has declined to comment on any layoffs.The job cuts may come as Vitera is adjusting to its acquisition three months ago by a private-equity investment firm, Vista Equity Partners. Such private-equity firms often buy struggling companies as investments, try to turn them around, and eventually sell them for a profit. Critics, though, have blasted the firms for laying off workers to cut costs while collecting millions in fees for themselves and their investors. Rivals of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney have attacked his work with private-equity firm Bain Capital. Romney defended his actions, saying, among other things, he helped strengthen companies for the long haul. Vista Equity Partners has not returned a call seeking comment on Vitera. Vitera makes software that operates physicians' electronic health records and patient billing systems. A British company, The Sage Group, sold its Sage Healthcare operation to Vista in November for about $320 million. Job cuts appear to have begun in recent weeks. Messages posted on an industry blog, Histalk.com, suggest the number is anywhere from 75 to more than 300. The Tribune was unable to confirm that. Several people contacted the newspaper to say they were let go by the company but no one was willing to be publicly identified. Several former Vitera employees laid off Feb. 9 forwarded resumes to Fritz Eichelberger, a technology and executive recruiter in Tampa, Eichelberger said. And Vitera hired three off-duty Tampa Police officers starting that day, police records show. Among their duties was escorting company executives to their vehicles. The police department was told only that the company was undergoing a reorganization. Vitera said nothing about layoffs in a statement to the Tribune on Feb. 13. "Last week we announced that we are re-positioning Vitera Healthcare Solutions for growth by launching the Vitera Center of Excellence in Tampa, Florida," the statement says. "This year alone, we are investing $25 million to accelerate innovation of our products, train our employees, and implement internal systems that improve customer service. As part of this transformation, Vitera is hiring locally and expanding our sales force by more than 40 percent to address the growing demands of the healthcare industry." A company that digitizes medical records has a lot of upside. The federal government is spending up to $27 billion to help hospitals and doctors' offices convert to electronic records and software companies are benefitting, said Mark Anderson, a Texas-based consultant who helps physician decide which software to buy. Vitera, though, has devolved into an industry also-ran in recent years, Anderson said. The company has been bought and sold several times since its founding in the early 1980s under the name Medical Manager. Management has changed at least six times in seven years, he said. Anderson said he believes the company is cutting anyone who isn't absolutely necessary and is hiring new salespeople to turn itself around. "Because they were losing so much money," he said, "because the U.S. market was floundering, something needed to be done."
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