Out-of-region doctors, hospitals see success in Palm Beach County, plan more growth

Alexandra Clough
Palm Beach Post

Wall Street firms and finance companies aren’t the only businesses growing their presence in Palm Beach County.

An increasing number of out-of-area medical providers are expanding their presence, too.

These providers include Tampa General Hospital and NYU Langone, two providers that opened medical offices during the past six years and continue to add more doctors and locations.

In addition, an unnamed hospital from the Northeast soon will be establishing its first medical offices in the county in downtown West Palm Beach.

Ken Himmel, chief executive of Related Urban, the mixed-use arm of Related Cos., didn't provide further details on the health care company. But the real estate developer did confirm the provider will lease 100,000 square foot of space for medical offices at a planned office high-rise at The Square in West Palm Beach.

All three health care companies hope to capitalize on Palm Beach County' booming population, including a recent influx of well-insured patients from the Northeast and Midwest. Business leaders say the increase in health care providers offers patients greater choice and higher-quality service for their medical needs.

Although the three companies don't plan to build hospitals, they are eager to perform other services, such as doctor visits, outpatient surgery and imaging. And when inpatient surgeries are necessary, patients can be steered to the hospitals where the providers are headquartered, even if those hospitals are located out of town or outside the state.

These providers join an increasingly competitive health care market, filled with for-profit hospital companies, such as Tenet Healthcare's Palm Beach Health Network, Universal Health Services and HCA Healthcare, and nonprofit hospital companies such as Baptist Health South Florida.

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Tampa General's march east across Florida started more than two years ago

In 2020, Tampa General expanded into the county by partnering with an oncology physician practice group, Cancer Center of South Florida.

Since then, the west coast's largest hospital has acquired several other specialty physician practices, including general surgery and kidney care. Most recently, Tampa General acquired Palm Beach Radiology Associates in North Palm Beach. 

In December, Tampa General announced that a top New York internist, gastroenterologist, and transplant hepatologist has joined the Tampa General Hospital Gastro Group of the Palm Beaches, which has offices in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.

That same month, Tampa General also said it was launching a concierge medical practice in Palm Beach County.

More growth in Palm Beach County is planned, said John Couris, Tampa General's president and chief executive. In a December interview, Couris said the hospital expects to have a presence from Boca Raton to Jupiter, and also into Stuart in Martin County.

While Tampa General doesn't plan to build a hospital in Palm Beach County, it does plan to create ambulatory surgery centers and 23-hour stay facilities attached to surgery centers, Couris said.

“Palm Beach County deserves world-class healthcare and access to the best physicians," said Couris, an aggressive dealmaker who previously served as president and chief executive officer of Jupiter Medical Center.

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NYU Langone: From New York to Palm Beach

NYU Langone also recently expanded its services in Palm Beach County, with plans for additional growth, too.

In 2017, the NYU Langone office in West Palm Beach opened with a couple of internists, but the practice since has expanded to include several specialties. Most recently, NYU Langone added two of New York’s leading sports medicine and orthopedic surgery physicians. Dr. Dennis Cardone and Dr. John Kennedy specialize in sports regenerative medicine techniques for soft tissue and joint conditions.

NYU Langone also has specialists in gynecology, endocrinology, physical therapy and medical weight loss.

Andrew Rubin, senior vice president for clinical affairs and ambulatory care at NYU Langone, said recruitment talks are underway with New York doctors willing to move to Palm Beach County, as well as Florida doctors who meet NYU Langone's standards.

NYU Langone's burgeoning roster of physicians is prompting a search for larger clinic space, which also could include imaging. Rubin said NYU Langone is a national leader in radiological imaging "and we're considering doing something like that."

The goal, Rubin said, is to offer patients a wider range of in-house services.

"It is the integrated clinical care you would get if you were a patient in New York," Rubin said. "We think Floridians are entitled to get the same care in Palm Beach County."

UF, UM expand into county

The expanding presence of Tampa General and NYU Langone in Palm Beach County comes against a backdrop of increased competition for patients.

Out-of-county health systems from within Florida are keen to grow their presence. They not only seek to treat well-insured residents, but they also know that some patients may show their gratitude with generous donations. 

During the past 18 months, the University of Miami Health System opened clinics in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach to serve patients wanting access to UHealth cardiology, urology and dermatology physicians and services. 

And in 2022, UF Healthcare, affiliated with the University of Florida, announced an affiliation with Jupiter Medical Center that will lead to the creation of at least two Palm Beach Gardens hospitals: a research hospital next to the Alton community and a small hospital in the growing Avenir community. 

Timing right for Tampa General's ongoing expansion into Palm Beach County

Tampa General first reached into Palm Beach County in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Tampa General officials expected some residents who wanted treatment at Northeast hospitals would be reluctant to fly for fear of catching the airborne virus, and might prefer to drive west across the state for specialized care.

The gamble paid off beyond Tampa General's expectations.

During the past two years, as migration from cold climes led to a surge of people moving to South Florida, Tampa General's patient population in Palm Beach County grew. This includes Palm Beach County residents who seek in-hospital care in Tampa. Between 60 to 70 patients a month visit Tampa General's facility on the west coast for services, Couris said.

In Palm Beach County, Tampa General counts 350 employees, including 40 physicians, in 11 clinics.

Couris said Palm Beach County patients need access to academics and research available at Tampa General, which is the teaching hospital for the University of South Florida's medical school. Tampa General has 700 residents and fellows and nearly 60 training programs.

Tampa General also provides certain types of rare or specialty care, including neurosurgery and organ transplants. Tampa General has the sixth-largest transplant program in the country and the largest liver transplant program in the state, Couris said.

The hiring of Dr. Sonja K. Olsen, a New York physician, will help patients in Palm Beach County navigate liver transplant surgeries to be performed at Tampa General, Couris said.

"If you're a patient in Palm Beach County, the liver transplant will be done in Tampa, but the pre and post-operative care will be done in the local community," he said.

John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, photographed overlooking the Tampa skyline on Sept. 28, 2018.

Out-of-state hospitals discover Palm Beach County

Cleveland Clinic, which has a Florida campus in Weston, was the first out-of-state provider to expand into Palm Beach County.

In 2007, the health care provider leased a small West Palm Beach office until it took a large block of space in the CityPlace Tower offices in West Palm Beach. Cleveland Clinic later opened clinics in Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington.

Other providers later followed.

In 2017, NYU Langone established medical offices in downtown West Palm Beach, starting with two internists. It also opened NYU Langone Cardiology Associates, a partnership with a cardiology practice in Delray Beach.

At the time, NYU Langone officials said the offices were opened to to serve the local community but also to provide continuous care to New York patients who have homes in Palm Beach County and who travel back and forth seasonally.

Some of those patients have since moved to Florida permanently. And NYU Langone's medical offices now feature more than a dozen providers.

"There's definitely more volume than we would have expected it to be, and it's certainly more consistent as a year-round medical group," Rubin said.

Whither Cleveland Clinic?

In January 2019, Cleveland Clinic paid $9 million for 35 acres along Lake Worth Road, just west of Florida's Turnpike. The purchase spurred speculation the site could be developed into medical offices and maybe a hospital to serve the clinic's growing patient population.

But Cleveland Clinic never built anything on the property. A Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman said she didn't have any information on plans for the site.

Cleveland Clinic also has had discussions with Palm Beach Atlantic University about possibly building a free-standing medical clinic on the private Christian college's West Palm Beach campus. The clinic's existing medical offices are in CityPlace Tower office building. Four more years remain on the lease.

A Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman said she had no information about another location in West Palm Beach.

In 2019, Cleveland Clinic bought Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach and Martin Health System in Martin and St. Lucie counties. The purchases, along with growth at the Weston hospital, have bolstered Cleveland Clinic's presence throughout Florida's east coast.

In fact, Cleveland Clinic added 1,254 physicians during 2020 and 2021 in Florida "as demand for our services continues to grow," said Arlene Allen-Mitchell, a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman.

Alexandra Clough is a business writer at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at Twitter: @acloughpbpHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.