While Cleveland Clinic Florida is opening a Wellington office, it’s reportedly close to renewing a lease for its fancy medical offices at CityPlace Tower in West Palm Beach.
And the world-class medical provider is wishful about having a hospital presence in Palm Beach County — either through an affiliation with an existing hospital or by building its own facility.
“There are many areas that are growing out to the west that are underrepresented, from a hospital perspective,” said Dr. Wael Barsoum, president of Cleveland Clinic Florida, based in Weston. “So I do think there will be an opportunity to consider putting inpatient beds in that area — and in the northern area of the county.”
Cleveland Clinic isn’t planning to build a Palm Beach County hospital right now, though, especially since the regulatory hurdles are so high.
Instead, it’s focused on a plan to open medical offices in Wellington.
Nonetheless, the medical provider’s expansion isn’t exactly appreciated by Palm Beach County hospitals that have worked to boost the quality and sophistication of patient care.
During the past five years, Robbin Lee, chief executive of Wellington Regional Medical Center, said, Wellington’s care has become so strong, patients no longer need to travel to Miami — or the airport — for their health care needs.
They also shouldn’t be directed to the Cleveland Clinic’s Weston hospital by Cleveland Clinic doctors poaching patients, said Lee, a former ER nurse.
“For (Cleveland Clinic) to come in and say they are going to take patients down to Broward is disrespectful to our physicians,” Lee said of Cleveland Clinic. “It implies all their hard work is not valued. It’s disruption.”
And so it goes in the battle to win the hearts and wallets of Palm Beach County patients.
For the past decade, the county has become popular with out-of-area medical providers eager to gain a toehold in the market.
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.
Some are opening up clinic offices, while others are forming partnerships with county-based hospitals that want the cachet and capital of larger players.
(Mount Sinai has a partnership with Jupiter Medical Center, a relationship that’s expanding through the soon-to-open West Palm Beach office.)
South Florida players are teaming up, too.
Baptist Health South Florida of Miami-Dade County signed an agreement to merge with Bethesda Health, which has two hospitals in Boynton Beach. The merger, first announced in 2015, is set to be completed on Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, Boca Raton Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced it has embarked on a process of finding a “strategic partnership” with another health care provider.
Cleveland Clinic’s Barsoum said an affiliation with Boca Raton Regional “could be complementary,” but he said there aren’t any talks going on.
Right now, Cleveland Clinic Florida just wants more of the Palm Beach County patient market population. Cleveland Clinic treats patients at medical offices throughout the county, and it handles their in-patient hospitalizations at the mother ship, the Weston hospital.
In 2007, Cleveland Clinic Florida was the first out-of-area medical provider to establish offices in 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 those living in Palm Beach.
Today, Cleveland Clinic has offices at CityPlace Tower and Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach, in Palm Beach Gardens and soon, in Wellington.
The Wellington office, in the works for a year, will be 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.
The Cleveland Clinic office is an affront to Lee, who said Palm Beach County hospitals work closely with each other to provide quality patient care.
“They want to put cardiologists and GI doctors here? There’s no need,” Lee said.”There are three GI groups that have been here for years and they are well-respected.”
Lee knows that Wellington Regional is sitting in the catbird seat, east of communities where thousands of homes will be built during the coming decade. Thus, she doesn’t even think of Wellington as western Palm Beach County.
“Wellington sits in central Palm Beach County now,” she said.
During her nearly five years at the medical center, Lee has worked to boost the quality and complexity of services. The hospital has a comprehensive stroke center, lung program, chest resuscitation center and neurointerventional lab, among other services.
The hospital also has an entire program created to treat the polo players who flock to Wellington annually. Player injuries require the services of orthopedic surgeons and other surgeons, plus concussion management, she said.
The hospital is adding more intensive care beds and considering additional growth, including building two more floors on a wing of the hospital, Lee said.
But Cleveland Clinic’s Barsoum still sees potential need in the area.
With the trend in medicine toward convenience, patients at Cleveland Clinic’s Palm Beach County medical offices probably wouldn’t mind having a close-by hospital for some inpatient services.
Barsoum said a “micro-hospital” could fill a need for inpatient care that isn’t complex. Micro-hospitals, featuring from 25 to 50 beds, are for patients who need hospitalization for less severe matters.
This type of hospital differs from hospitals such as Cleveland Clinic’s Weston facility, which sees complex cases. In fact, Weston is adding more critical care beds to meet demand, which means it often treats the sickest patients in the region. For them there are organ transplants, cardiac surgery, cancer treatment and neurosurgical care, among other specialties.
Barsoum said Cleveland Clinic hasn’t done enough research to consider what type of hospital could be suitable for Palm Beach County, if it decided it was interested in building one.
But Barsoum isn’t shy about touting Cleveland Clinic, which he said is enough of a draw that yes, Palm Beach County patients do travel to Weston, where the entire experience is informed by the Ohio headquarter’s renowned reputation.
“(Patients) expect a level of care that is extremely high,” Barsoum said, invoking the Ritz-Carlton hotel brand as an example of stellar service. “It shouldn’t be any different in health care.”
Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.