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Lakeland Regional, USF partnership would create 200 residency slots

University of South Florida has invited Lakeland Regional Medical Center to become the first member of what would become a multi-hospital system, USF President Judy Genshaft announced Wednesday.

The new entity, to be called USF Health System Inc., should be in place by the end of March, Genshaft said. She said it would create at least 200 new residency slots at LRMC, maybe more, resulting in the state’s largest medical-residency program.

“The real winners are our patients,” Genshaft said. “This state needs doctors.”

The board of Lakeland Regional Health Systems Inc. will be asked to vote on the invitation later this month, LRMC President Elaine Thompson told Health News Florida in a phone interview.

The LRMC board will have to decide whether the new system's logo will appear on the hospital, she said, but that would be fine with her.

"We very much want to have USF Health's name on our branding to show we are serious about becoming an academic medical center," Thompson said.

The collaboration goes beyond the affiliations that universities typically have with their teaching hospitals, she said.  Tampa General has until now been USF College of Medicine’s primary teaching hospital; USF also has affiliations with H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, James A. Haley VA Hospital and All Children’s Hospital.

It is unclear which hospitals other than Lakeland Regional will be invited into the new system. Thompson said she hopes that all of the hospitals in which USF faculty are now teaching will become members. 

Many details remain unclear. While USF is not acquiring LRMC, its background sheet uses the phrase "operational and management merger." While Lakeland Regional Health System will have a presence on the USF Health System board, it will retain its own board, Thompson said.

As partners go, Lakeland Regional offers two enticements: its size and independence.

Forty minutes from the USF campus in Tampa, the medical center has 851 beds and 4,500 employees. It is the fifth-largest hospital in the state, averaging 38,000 inpatients and 3,500 births per year.

Importantly for teaching, Lakeland Regional has the state's largest single-site emergency department, with more than 165,000 visits a year.

As an independent non-profit, LRMC has been courted by a host of hospital companies and health systems, including University of Central Florida and UF-Shands, Thompson said. But its medical staff has closer ties to USF, where many of them graduated or trained, she said.

Because LRMC has not had a medical residency program before, it will be eligible for Medicare funds for up to 200 residents, under current federal rules. That means millions of dollars in new revenue to pay residents and faculty.

 --Health News Florida is journalism for a healthy state. As a part of WUSF Public Media, it provides in-depth coverage of health issues and policy.  Question? Comment? Contact Carol Gentry, Editor, at 727-410-3266 or Carol.Gentry@HealthNewsFlorida.org.