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St. Pete City Council backs Orlando Health’s purchase of Bayfront Health

Margie Manning

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Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

The St. Petersburg City Council has approved a 50-year lease with Orlando Health, the nonprofit that plans to buy Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Bayfront is located on city-owned land and the lease approval was needed in order for the hospital’s current owner, Community Health Systems, to sell Bayfront to Orlando Health.

There’s no better partner for Bayfront, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who was an executive at Bayfront prior to joining the city administration.

“Bayfront is more than just a hospital,” Tomalin said. “It is a cornerstone of our community and it requires a strong foundation that can afford to ensure its brightest future and an owner that shares its ethos, community-based commitment and focus on mission-driven care.”

Bayfront Health, at 701 6th St. S., is more than 100 years old, with a tradition of serving the poor. It is the largest hospital in St. Petersburg, with 480 beds. The hospital was sold to Health Management Associates in 2013. A year later, Community Health Systems (NYSE: CYH), based in Franklin, Tennessee and at one time the largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States, bought HMA. Community Health has since sold many of the hospitals it acquired from HMA.

“Bayfront under CHS has been languishing,” said Council member Darden Rice. “I have heard from so many people that work at the hospital who love this community and care about providing good care, and they are not getting the support and the help they need from CHS.”

A major point of discussion during the more than hour-long City Council debate was Orlando Health’s commitment to charitable care. The lease says Orlando Health will operate Bayfront as a “safety net hospital” and provide care for those who may otherwise be unable to afford or obtain care due to various possible adverse circumstance.

Council member Amy Foster said she wanted to see more specifics about how Orlando Health would care for low-income individuals.

“I can’t in good conscience vote for a lease for 50 years knowing we are likely to be moving into a serious economic downturn for our citizens,” Foster said.

Orlando Health’s CEO David Strong cited the health system’s 100-year history of providing community care, and most other council members said they were aware of that reputation.

“My vote of yes is a leap of faith, to know that the reputation of an organization for the last 100 years is the reputation we are voting on today,” said Council member Brandi Gabbard.

The measure was approved by a vote of 6 to 1, with Foster voting no and Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman absent.

Neither Community Health nor Orlando health have disclosed the sale price for Bayfront.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg no longer will have an ownership stake in Bayfront once the sale closes, Tomalin said.

Orlando Health has partnered with the Foundation to fund some of its efforts related to social determinants of health and improving the health of the community, including contributing to the Foundation’s grant process, Strong said

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