July 24, 2008

Health Leaders Revive Goal of Academic Medical Center

By Phil Galewitz, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Jul. 24--Palm Beach County's top health leaders have begun meeting to develop plans for an academic medical center -- a powerhouse that could serve as a major training ground for doctors, offer cutting-edge clinical trials and provide a full range of medical specialists.

The talks follow the decision of financially ailing Boca Raton Community Hospital last month to drop plans for a $600 million, 600-bed academic medical center on nearby Florida Atlantic University's campus.

Traditional academic medical centers have a medical school and teaching hospital on the same campus. But to save the cost of building a facility, local health leaders are exploring developing an academic center that would be housed at several area hospitals.

"We do not envision a new facility," said Dr. Claude Earl Fox, director of the Lantana-based Florida Public Health Institute.

The 2-year-old think tank convened the meeting last week of 43 health leaders including executives of six county hospitals, the county Health Department, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, two major health foundations, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the Town of Palm Beach Medical Commission and the Palm Beach County Medical Society.

Jeff Koons, incoming chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission, told the group he favors developing a center.

An academic medical center would support new medical residency training programs, such as the one started July 1 with the University of Miami, JFK Medical Center in Atlantis and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Riviera Beach. It is the county's first local M.D. residency program.

Fox, who has worked at the University of Miami and the Johns Hopkins Health System and was a top health official in the Clinton administration, said a county the size of Palm Beach should have an academic medical center.

Paul Gionfriddo, president of the West Palm Beach-based Quantum Foundation, said Boca Community's decision not to pursue building an academic medical center left a major hole in local plans to expand academic medicine in the region.

"A lot of people would like to see more academic medicine in Palm Beach County, and the question is how to do it and fill the gap left by Boca Community not going forward," Gionfriddo said.

The University of Miami had planned to partner with Boca Community and FAU on the academic center and is interested in working with other hospitals on the concept, said Dr. Laurence Gardner, executive dean for education and policy at the UM medical school.

UM hopes to sponsor as many as 250 medical residency programs in various specialties in Palm Beach County. That would increase the supply of doctors in the area, because most physicians stay in the area where they train, Gardner said. The center also would attract businesses and technology companies, University of Miami officials say.

Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York is an example of an academic medical center that has locations at multiple facilities, Gardner said. How much such an endeavour would cost locally depends on the structure and involvement of hospitals and government health agencies, he said.

St. Mary's Medical Center CEO Davide Carbone, who would like to start residency programs in pediatrics, obstetrics and surgery, said there's no need to have "one big hospital on the hill that provides everything," to have an academic medical center. "I think there is an acceptance of the reality that if we want an academic medical center, it doesn't have to be one hospital but it can be dispersed at several hospitals that offer unique opportunities."

Although no decisions were made at the meeting last week, "There is a general agreement to work together," Fox said.

The health community leaders plan to meet again in September.


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