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Keeping Up With Growth Highlights Recent Health Goals for Polk County

February 24, 2024 News

Five health system providers operating in Polk County all agree: 2023 was a good year, one in which they opened new buidings, built new programs, partnered in new initiatives and ensured the community is as healthy as possible. 

With a population growth rate that continues to lead the state and nation, and the ratio of physicians to patients lags – healthcare leaders know there is work to do. And they have big plans for 2024.  

But first, they took some time to wrap up some of their accomplishments for 2023.   

BayCare Health System

Kristen Smith, Chief Nursing Officer for the Polk Region at BayCare Health System, said her organization is also taking steps to provide healthcare to a growing population.  

“As a health system, we have taken major steps in expanding our ability to care for our community, including the opening of a new hospital in Wesley Chapel and the expansion of our behavioral health services. To that end, locally, we were able to open an annex to WHH’s Center for Behavioral Health across the street from our Women’s Hospital.” 

The health system is also committed to increasing the number of family medicine physicians, and moved in that direction when it graduated its residency program’s first class of physicians. “Four of our five graduates have settled in Polk County to practice. Next year, the program will expand to include 13 students for a transitional year program, which is a more global training for students before they delve into their specialty training.” 

2023 also brought two partnerships, she said:  

  • Winter Haven Hospital partnered with Winter Haven-based Gessler Clinic to help improve access to high-quality health care. 
  • Bartow Regional Medical Center partnered with Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine “to provide care to those unable to access affordable medical care. LVIM now has office space on the Bartow campus.” 

In addition, BayCare’s stroke program received Primary Stroke Center certification by DNV, a national organization.  

The healthcare system is partnering with nursing programs at various local colleges to ensure new nurses are equipped with all they need to take care of Polk County. But it goes further than that.  

“We’re excited as well about Winter Haven Hospital’s participation in an international nursing program, in which we welcome nurses from all over the world to spend time in our community, adding clinical support to our teams across the hospital,” she said. 

Like others, BayCare is proud to serve Polk County. “Our dedication to patient care was acknowledged by The Leapfrog Group, and all our acute-care hospitals, including Bartow Regional and Winter Haven hospitals, received an A grade,” Smith said.  

Lakeland Regional Health (LRH)

President & CEO Danielle Drummond said the health system remains proud of the care its delivering to our growing community.  

“We identified a significant opportunity to enhance healthcare accessibility through initiatives such as integrating residents, welcoming new team members, engaging in community education, expanding emergency care and establishing new locations like the Kathleen campus. It is our goal to continue expanding our sites of service so that patients are never far from our award-winning care.”  

LRH welcomed 80 new providers in its Physician Group and more than 2,000 team members in various roles. It continues to recruit top talent, she said. “With the addition of these new skilled providers and amazing team members, we are even more accessible to our community.”  

Also in 2023, LRH welcomed the first class of 70 Graduate Medical Education (GME) residents in family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, psychiatry, transitional year and surgical critical care. “We will be at full capacity in 2028 and will have nearly 200 residents in our programs. Some of the best hospitals in the country are teaching hospitals, and we are proud to be developing a world-class academic medical center right here in Polk County,” Drummond said.  

With the population growth Polk County is experiencing, there is a need for more physicians. “Our GME residents have a direct impact on easing the current ratio of patients to physicians, approximately 2,000+: 1. As GME residents plant roots in our community, we know many will choose to call Lakeland home after their program has finished. In fact, about  55% of residents in GME programs around the country choose to stay in their residency location after their program has finished.”  

She said LRH believes there are many important factors in delivering healthcare, including: 

  •  “The safety of our patients is a top priority for us, and we are always working to ensure our services exceed the standards for safety and patient experience.”  
  • “Recruiting and retaining top talent from around the country. Our medical professionals are world-class and experts in numerous specialties, so our patients receive comprehensive healthcare for all their health needs.”  

Drummond summed up LRH’s view: “With growing population numbers, our goal is to ease the physician shortage so our residents can have access to our care. That is why we have been opening new locations, welcoming new team members, optimizing current sites of services, launching our GME programs and continuously placing people at the heart of all we do to create a healthier community.” 

Orlando Health  

Breaking ground on a new facility in Polk County in 2023 was a highlight for Orlando Health, said Danielle DeJarlais, Media Relations manager. 

“We’re excited to see the continued progress surrounding Orlando Health Lakeland Highlands Hospital,” which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2026,” she said. “Orlando Health Lakeland Highlands Hospital will offer the growing community new high-quality healthcare options. It will have more than 300 inpatient beds, nearly 30 ICU/progressive care rooms, 16 patient rooms to support a women’s birthing program, shelled space for a future neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a 48-bed emergency department and additional medical and support services.”  

In addition, several of Orlando Health’s hospitals were recognized for their commitment to patient care and safety. 

Central Florida Health Care

2023 was a great year for Central Florida Health Care (CFHC), said Sherrie Pratt, Media & Communications specialist.  

“The biggest highlight is CFHC is growing and helping more people get the healthcare they need. In 2023, CFHC added more specialty services for patients, including endocrinology and podiatry,” Pratt said. It provides healthcare in 15 centers in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. 

Nearing the end of its fiscal year on Jan. 31, 2024, CFHC had provided healthcare to more than 76,000 people, an increase of almost 6,000 from the prior fiscal year. It’s a number that continues to grow, she said. 

Also in 2023, CFHC launched its $30 million “Thank You from the Heart” capital campaign “to raise funds to build and expand more facilities to meet the need for affordable and accessible healthcare in the tri-county area,” Pratt said. 

AdventHealth Polk

In 2023, AdventHealth Polk witnessed transformative developments, said Tim Clark, AdventHealth Polk Market President and CEO.  

“The highlight was the expansion of AdventHealth Heart of Florida’s emergency room in October, adding 10 rooms and streamlining registration for quicker patient care,” he said. “Additionally, the beam signing in Winter Haven marked the beginning of the new AdventHealth Winter Haven Emergency Department.”  

Clark said quality care is most important to AdventHealth. “Our paramount focus at AdventHealth in Polk County is ensuring enhanced access to high-quality health care. Our continued focus on quality care will remain at the center of everything we do.” 

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