Tuesday’s announcement of the sale of the parent company of The Villages Regional Hospital left a plethora of concerning and answered questions.
What is known is that the University of Florida Health plans to acquire Central Florida Health – the not-for-profit provider that owns the Villages hospital and Leesburg Regional Medical Center – sometime in early 2020. Those facilities will be renamed UF Health The Villages Hospital and UF Health Leesburg Hospital, according to a news release from UF Health.
It’s unclear from the release how the sale will affect several other CFH-owned facilities. One of the largest, the TVRH Rehabilitation Hospital, is located inside The Villages Regional Hospital’s North Tower, so it stands to reason that the Gainesville-based provider will most like own that property as well. Others in question are an urgent care located on the Leesburg hospital’s campus, Alliance Labs and LRMC Senior Behavioral Health Center.
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Another unknown is what will happen to the 16-member CFH board of directors, who for many years have assured local control of both hospitals – something that was paramount to Villages Founder Harold Schwartz and his son, retirement community guru H. Gary Morse. Schwartz is known for being shown at age 87 pointing toward the ground on a 1997 billboard that read: “I’ll live to see The Villages Regional Hospital right here!” while Morse tirelessly fought for the then-60-bed hospital to finally become a reality in July 2002.
The CFH board currently includes five members with strong ties to The Villages:
- Schwartz’s great-granddaughter and Morse’s granddaughter, Citizens First Bank President Lindsey Blaise, who is the daughter of Villages owner Tracy Morse;
- Villager and Republican Party leader Richard Cole Jr.;
- Former Community Development District 6 supervisor and Villages Homeowners Advocate leader Russell J. D’Emidio;
- Villages Director of Hospitality and former Cane Gardens Country Club owner George “Mackie” McCabe, whose son, Ryan, is married to Paige Boone, daughter of Villages owner Jennifer Parr; and
- Former District 33 Rep. Marlene O’Toole, a Villager who also is a longtime volunteer with Take Stock in Children.
Questions also are swirling about in the community about the proposed new hospital UF Health is reportedly planning to build. A release from the organization this past Friday announcing a partnership with The Villages touted a “comprehensive” healthcare campus that would include construction of a new general acute-care hospital. Tuesday’s announcement about the acquisition of CFH says several long-term capital plans will be “considered,” including the construction of the new hospital “in association with The Villages.”
To date, the 307-bed Villages Regional Hospital is the only true hospital in the community, though Leesburg Regional Medical Center is a closer drive for residents in the Village of Fenney and the Villages of Southern Oaks area in the southernmost portion of the community.
The Villages also is currently building the new Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood, a specialty care facility that will house a variety of medical practices and offer outpatient procedures where patients will stay next door at the soon-to-be-completed 150-room Brownwood Hotel & Spa. The hotel will be connected to the 240,000-square-foot medical facility – also known as a “bedless hospital” – by a covered walkway.
Perhaps the biggest question, however, is whether UF Health is planning to take it one step further and purchase the primary-care-driven, Developer-owned Villages Health system.
That system, which was officially announced in 2013 by Developer Mark Morse during his annual visit to The Villages Homeowners Association, includes seven primary care centers scattered across Florida’s Friendliest Hometown and Belleview, a specialty care center located next to The Villages Regional Hospital in a building that once housed The Villages Wellness Center and the community’s only indoor pool, and the facilities currently under construction in Brownwood.
The Villages Health – a system that promised throwback “Marcus Welby”-style doctors with the latest and greatest technology available at their fingertips – has a somewhat controversial past. In July 2016, the healthcare provider sent out letters stating that beginning Jan. 1, 2017 it would no longer accept new or existing patients who had Original Medicare with supplemental insurance – a move that drew the attention of The National Retiree Legislative Network, an advocacy organization that lobbies Congress of behalf of more than 2 million retirees from more than 200 companies. In mid-2017, the provider apparently attempted to woo back some of those patients. And this past August, it broke from its longtime exclusive agreement with UnitedHealthcare and announced that it would start accepting Florida Blue Medicare Advantage plans as well.
While it remains to be seen what UF Health hopes to accomplish in the community, speculation is running rampant that Tuesday’s announcement of acquiring medical facilities in the community won’t be the last one. Purchasing The Villages Health would provide UF Health with the missing piece of the puzzle and allow the provider to have its hands in just about all facets of care – primary, specialty and acute. And many believe it would be a huge step up from the failed partnership The Villages Health once had with the University of South Florida Health, which pulled out of the specialty care practice in 2014 after losing millions of dollars in the venture.