Hahnfeldt gives overview of growth of The Villages healthcare system

An overhead view of construction at The Villages Regional Hospital.
An overhead view of construction at The Villages Regional Hospital.

For several years, information has been plentiful in our various local media about expanding healthcare facilities in and around The Villages — and of late, about the “Marcus Welby”‘ care concept on which The Villages Healthcare System is modeled.

Thursday night at the Savannah Center, Chairman Don Hahnfeldt, of the Central Florida Healthcare Alliance board, drew all the pieces together for a meaningful overview of progress to date and healthcare goals in his presentation to the Sumter County Republican Club.

In answer to the queries: “Why here?” and “Why now?” Hahnfeldt drew a meaningful thread from ‘America’s Friendliest Hometown’ to the goal of also being ‘America’s Healthiest Hometown’ — citing the exciting vision residents share with our developer family. “Much has been done, and much more is planned,” he said. “This is truly a work in progress.”

Covering many bases, healthcare in The Villages encompasses the expanding acute care Villages Regional Hospital — with the new North Tower construction well under way. There are several independent living properties (like Freedom Pointe); assisted living venues (like Sumter Place), plus memory care, the Moffitt Cancer Center, rehabilitative care, imaging facilities with whom The Villages has partnered, and Promise Hospital, a long-term acute care facility, Hahnfeldt cited our growing population, which now exceeds 100,000 residents, and the burgeoning healthcare needs of large numbers of seniors.

“Ours is a unique community,” he said, “with an average age of 68, and 40 square miles of Villages neighborhoods and facilities — roughly one and one-half times the size of New York’s borough of Manhattan.” He recalled an old highway billboard posted some 12 or so years ago on which Harold Schwartz, founder of The Villages, announced he would live to see a Villages Hospital right here. Although in his nineties at the time, Mr. Schwartz did witness the opening of the original hospital facilities — thus fulfilling his lifelong wish.

Don Hahnfeldt speaks to members of the GOP Thursday at Savannah Center.
Don Hahnfeldt speaks to members of the GOP Thursday at Savannah Center.

Since 2004, The Villages Regional Hospital has expanded from its original 60 beds to the current 223 patient beds. Emergency room and inpatient facilities will be added with the new North Tower. Additional building phases will follow. “We aren’t perfect,” Hahnfeldt said, “but we aim for continuous improvements in the care and services we provide. Healthcare in The Villages is not the same as it was several years ago or even six months ago. We are getting excellent feedback.”

For several years, the University of South Florida has had a presence at Lake Sumter Landing and has been presenting periodic lectures on various healthcare topics — aimed at general patient education, illness prevention as well as access to appropriate therapies.”We did a very large survey a few years ago,” Hahnfeldt recalled, “in fact, with 35,000 participants, it was the largest health survey among a senior population ever undertaken in the world. From those findings, we learned most residents want better primary care; they want coordination of their total health care between primary care physicians,specialists and our hospital system, and they want coordination of electronic medical records.”

“In addition to the genetic patterns we are born with, our environment, our access to healthcare and our personal choices do much to influence our overall health,” Hahnfeldt added. “Many residents like the Villages concept of Medical Homes, and we have five of them already up and operating successfully. This system is being built with a large participation from the community. Residents have been recommending doctors from their old home towns to move down here and become part of the program. It’s just amazing to watch this work in progress, and how the system is taking shape.”

“It took someone with very deep pockets and a strong commitment to get this started,” Hahnfeldt said, referring to our developer family. “We also have an urgent care facility, wound care, and a soon-to-be-opened surgical center at our East campus across US 27/441 from The Villages Regional Hospital. Also mentioning Leesburg Regional Medical Center, Hahnfeldt said proudly, “we are doing all of this in an area which has the highest Medicare-dependent population in the U.S. — when so many other hospitals are failing. “We couldn’t do this without our experienced leadership, which runs our healthcare as a good business should be run; and without dedicated employees, the many volunteers and auxiliary.” He cited several ‘simple’ cost savings suggestions from employees they have implemented that are saving millions of dollars.

“We are definitely growing, investing monies in building and expansion. The North Tower is a $59 million project, which will be $64 million when you add the fifth floor rehabilitation facility which just received approval. In the last two months, we have hired sixty new registered nurses.” Hahnfeldt punctuated his talk with many Powerpoint slides, including aerial photos of the huge construction sites.

In today’s economic climate, our number one goal has to be for our business to survive — and to stay on a positive path of continuing improvement. Both The Villages Regional Hospital and Leesburg Regional Medical Center host many thousands of patient visits each year — the numbers are staggering — and our aim is to provide the highest quality medical care. Coming soon will also be a new urgent care center adjacent to the expanded emergency department; national chest pain certification, and an emergency department specializing in geriatric patients.”

In answer to an audience query about expanded parking space, Hahnfeldt mentioned the free valet parking and patient shuttles now in place, and said, as more funds become available, other parking options will be explored as needed.

As with every other U.S. healthcare facility, The Villages is working hard to minimize hospital re-admissions and achieve better patient outcomes. Out of 250 hospitals in the state of Florida, eleven received the Healthgrades Patient Safety Award. Both The Villages and Leesburg facilities were recipients. Both hospitals have also jumped from a “B” to an “A” Leapfrog Grade rating for quality care. “This is no easy task when, as a non-profit community hospital, we must write-off bad debts, and provide charity and indigent patient care.”

Hahnfeldt retired from a 32-year career in the U.S. Navy as Comander of the U.S. Nuclear Submarine Fleet in the Pacific; and became a City Manager in Washington State. He retired a second time and moved to The Villages, where he is spending his retirement as leader in various volunteer positions with our VHA, the Central Florida Hospital Alliance and as Vice Chairman of the Sumter County Commissioners.