- Alexandra Clough Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Cleveland Clinic Florida continues its march up Florida’s east coast, striking deals in the past month to acquire a hospital in Indian River County and join forces with the cardiology program at a Martin County hospital.
Meanwhile, the Weston-based arm of the famed Ohio medical center will expand its Palm Beach County presence in March when it opens new offices in Wellington.
But what Cleveland Clinic really wants is a hospital in Palm Beach County. Right now the closest one is at the Weston campus in Broward County.
“This is what we get from our patients all the time,” Dr. Wael Barsoum, president of Cleveland Clinic Florida, said in a recent interview. “They say they want a Cleveland Clinic here.”
Because of state rules, the easiest way for Cleveland Clinic to open a hospital in Palm Beach County is to buy one.
Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced last year it is seeking a partnership with another health care provider, a deal that could lead to a merger or acquisition. The hospital is sifting through a short list of contenders, a hospital spokesman said.
Barsoum declined to discuss Boca Raton Regional, but he said last year said an affiliation “could be complementary.”
In the recent interview, Barsoum said Cleveland Clinic not only sees further growth in Palm Beach County. The world-renowned institution also sees it in the counties up the coast.
“When I think of Palm Beach County, I think of Martin County, St. Lucie County and even farther north,” Barsoum said.
Little by little, Cleveland Clinic is putting action behind intention.
It is crafting a regional presence in southeast Florida much as it has done in northeast Ohio, where it has numerous hospitals and medical offices.
On Jan. 30, Cleveland Clinic was selected as the buyer for Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach after a months-long process. Other finalists were Adventist, HCA and Orlando Health.
The prior week, on Jan. 26, Cleveland Clinic announced an affiliation with Martin Health System for cardiology and heart surgery. Barsoum said Cleveland Clinic will hire two surgeons by the summer to start performing surgeries at the system’s downtown Stuart hospital.
Barsoum said the Stuart hospital not only will serve cardiac patients in Martin County. The hospital also will be convenient for patients in northern Palm Beach County who want Cleveland Clinic’s renowned cardiac care, voted No. 1 in the country for 23 years in a row by U.S. News and World Report.
Other services could be offered at the hospital too, Barsoum said: “If they want to be more involved with more service lines, we’d be delighted to do that. Time will tell how that works out.”
Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic is set to open its Wellington clinic on March 1, a move that puts it squarely in competition with Wellington Regional Medical Center for patient care.
The 7,400-square-foot Cleveland Clinic facility is in the Village Green Center at the corner of Stribling Way and State Road 7. The office will feature primary care, gastroenterology, cardiology and other services offered by rotating Cleveland Clinic doctors traveling from the main Weston campus.
With Palm Beach County’s aging, wealthy and insured Baby Boomer population, plus the trend toward bringing medical care closer to patients, local and out-of-state medical centers are expanding their presence from Jupiter to Boca Raton.
In 2007, Cleveland Clinic Florida was the first out-of-area medical provider to move into Palm Beach County, opening offices in downtown West Palm Beach. Through the years, it has expanded services and treated a growing roster of patients.
It’s also reaped financial contributions from grateful patients, especially wealthy patients who live on Palm Beach.
In 2017, Jeffrey and Patricia Cole of Palm Beach donated $2.25 million to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s West Palm Beach office, the Tomsich Health and Medical Center at theCityPlace Toweroffice building at 525 Okeechobee Blvd.
Today, Cleveland Clinic also has offices in Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach, in Palm Beach Gardens, plus its soon-to-open Wellington clinic.
Other out-of-state providers have followed Cleveland Clinic’s expansion into Palm Beach County.
Three New York-based providers, Mount Sinai, NYU Langone,and the Hospital for Special Surgery, have opened or are set to open medical offices in downtown West Palm Beach.
Mount Sinai partnered with Jupiter Medical Center, and the Hospital for Special Surgery partnered with Tenet Healthcare, which owns Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach, so that patients needing hospitization for surgeries or other care can have access to a nearby in-patient facility.
But patients of Cleveland Clinic still must trek to Weston in Broward County for in-patient treatment or complex surgeries.
That’s prompted Barsoum to wish out loud he could open a hospital in Palm Beach County.
Barsoum said he’d like to see the state of Florida do away with its Certificate of Need program, which requires hospitals to seek state approval before they can open a new facility. Barsoum said eliminating the program will increase competition and push down costs.
But hospitals already in a particular market like the program. Among the reasons: It keeps out competitors.
Case in point: In 2013, the state turned down a request by Tenet Healthcare to open a hospital across from Scripps Florida in Palm Beach Gardens. The decision was a major victory for Jupiter Medical Center and HCA’s West Palm Hospital, which argued they would lose millions if the project went forward.
That means the only way Cleveland Clinic can open a hospital in Palm Beach County is to buy an existing one.
And the only hospital known to be seeking a partner, or buyer, is Boca Raton Regional, which last summer announced it wanted to not only offer greater services but also mitigate the “challenges of a stand-alone organization” by having greater access to capital.
That process is nearing a critical point.
Thomas Chakurda, vice president of marketing for Boca Raton Regional Hospital, on Wednesday said the board is drawing up a short list of “potential partners” and will finish the process in February.
Chakurda declined further comment, including whether Cleveland Clinic is a contender.