This is a follow-up to our first chapter in the story of Winter Haven community growth which looked back at how we got to where we are now. We shared statistical indicators of Winter Haven’s positive, smart growth, as well as some of the reasons for that growth. In addition, we highlighted the importance of the City of Winter Haven’s leadership in driving the investment and collaboration that have been a big part of the progress.

In this installment, we are pleased to highlight one of the other partnerships that helped get us here and will continue leading us forward.

Winter Haven Hospital and BayCare Health System

Winter Haven Hospital has long been a vital part of our community, providing care since 1926. In 2013, the hospital became part of BayCare Health System, a leading not-for-profit health care system. Since that time, the hospital has invested approximately $150 million in capital improvement projects, large equipment purchases, and information technology upgrades. Two major projects have been improvements to the emergency department, completed in 2017, and expansion of the Bostick Heart Center, to be completed in January 2020.

The $50 million emergency department project included doubling exam room capacity, allowing the hospital to see more patients, and adding a separate observation unit for patients to receive additional tests before being admitted. These improvements, along with hiring new doctors and developing new processes, have had a direct effect on the amount of time it takes for patients to get through the emergency department.

Expanding capacity in cardiology was also an important priority, since the hospital has a very advanced interventional cardiology program. The hospital’s heart surgery program is the highest quality program in the BayCare system, and arguably in the state, as demonstrated by its highest (3 star) rating by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons since 2006. New hybrid operating rooms will include imaging technology for interventional cardiologists to perform minimally invasive heart surgery and other procedures.

Economic Impact

Winter Haven Hospital is the largest employer in Winter Haven, including 350 doctors on staff. In addition to these and other high paying jobs at the hospital, the recent multimillion-dollar investment projects involve other professions such as contractors and architects. Steve Nierman, Winter Haven Hospital President, emphasizes the importance of the hospital’s growth on our economy. “Because of this growth, we hire more people and we see more people directing their care here,” Nierman says. “Having a thriving hospital in the community is very important to the economic development success of Winter Haven.”

According to a 2016 economic development impact study conducted for BayCare by the Washington Economics Group, Inc., Winter Haven Hospital supports over 3,000 jobs with $429 million in total annual economic impact. In 2017, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council published the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for our area. It noted that, among five target industry clusters, Life Sciences and Health Care are already top employers throughout the region, and stand to see strong gains consistently in the future.

Winter Haven Economic Development President Bruce Lyon recognizes the importance of growth industries like healthcare to help stabilize and diversify the local economy. “Our approach is to continue to grow Winter Haven’s economy in a balanced way,” says Lyon. “Since the hospital is part of the high growth healthcare industry that includes specialized jobs, it helps diversify our business mix.”

Winter Haven Hospital Foundation and the Family Medicine Residency Program

Another integral part of the hospital’s impact on our community is the Winter Haven Hospital Foundation, which cultivates philanthropic support for the hospital and its patient care mission. Foundation President Joel Thomas notes that funds raised by the Foundation stay in Winter Haven. Thomas is proud of the impact the Foundation has, saying, “It’s extraordinarily rewarding to see the passion in our community as we continue to grow the vital services the hospital provides.”

The Foundation’s most recent contribution has been its facilitation of the establishment of the Florida State University College of Medicine (FSUCOM) Family Medicine Residency Program at Winter Haven Hospital. This first-ever physician training program in Polk County is designed to improve access to primary care services, including to many of the underserved and at-risk population in our community. It will also assist with physician recruitment efforts.

In March 2020, the program is expected to accept six medical school graduates who will begin their three-year residency training in July 2020. New residents will be added each year. The hospital’s goal is to retain at least 50% of the residency graduates to open or join a practice in Polk County.

Steve Nierman says that the Foundation has championed the idea from the beginning, including financing a feasibility study that showed that this type program could work in our community to address a critical health care need. “This residency program probably wouldn’t have happened without the Foundation and its leadership, including Board Chairman Lance Anastasio and Foundation President Joel Thomas,” Nierman says. “Being able to get to a primary care doctor is one of the most critical needs in Polk County, and this program is designed to help address that need.”

Several milestones have already been reached for the program:

  • 2018: FSUCOM hired founding Program Director Nathan P. Falk, MD
  • August 2019: the program’s Family Health Center opened at 1201 First Street South in Winter Haven.
  • October 2019: the program received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)

While these highlights give you a brief glimpse into the impact that Winter Haven Hospital, BayCare Health System, and the Winter Haven Hospital Foundation have on our community, the work of these invaluable partners continues to make a difference in our quality of life. As Steve Nierman says, “At the end of the day, our mission is to provide high-quality compassionate care to everyone.” We are proud of the partnership with Winter Haven Hospital and are grateful for the impact its compassionate care has on our community.