BayCare, West Central Florida’s largest not-for-profit provider, celebrates 25 years

June 30, 2022


CLEARWATER, Fla. - What began more than a quarter century ago as an untested idea to protect not-for-profit health care for the Tampa Bay region celebrates its 25th anniversary today. BayCare Health System arrives at this milestone as the region’s largest health care provider, nationally recognized for its clinical excellence, financially sound and with the same core mission its founders created: to improve the health of all we serve.

“Our founders’ vision has been realized, but also exceeded,” said Rick Colón, chair of the BayCare Board of Trustees. “Our communities are better off, every day, because of our founders’ incredible collaboration to protect mission-driven, community-owned health care for our region.”

BayCare was founded on July 1, 1997, by a small group of not-for-profit hospital systems looking to ensure they could remain strong and relevant amid the growth in for-profit hospitals. At stake for West Central Florida and the Tampa Bay region was the strength of local, organically grown health care organizations with a primary interest in serving their communities, not shareholders.

These organizations had been founded by nurses, physicians and/or community-minded individuals. They had been funded by religious organizations, wealthy patrons and/or legions of small-dollar donors. Through hard work and ingenuity – but also by sheer passion for service – they had survived as independents for decades. 
But seeing their survival at risk, the founding hospital system members of BayCare entered a unique 50-year Joint Operating Agreement in 1997, each committing to a mission to “Improve the health of all we serve.”

“It is not common to see Catholic hospitals join with other-than-Catholic partners, but from the beginning we all were committed to making it work,” said Sister Pat Shirley, OSF, of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, the congregation that founded St. Anthony’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “It has worked because we all have focused on our shared values, not the least of which is a deep, shared passion for compassionate care for all,” said Shirley, a BayCare trustee. “I am very proud that BayCare continues that passion and mission.”

The founding hospitals -- St. Joseph’s, St. Anthony’s, Morton Plant and South Florida Baptist – committed to shared governance but also mutual respect. Fast forward 25 years and BayCare is a success story, having embraced and shaped a strategy seldom tried in the industry to grow into an integrated health care system. It is now the region’s leading health care provider.

BayCare has repeatedly been ranked by Fortune/IBM Watson Health in the top 20 percent of large U.S. health systems for clinical outcomes, operational efficiency, patient experience, financial health and contributions to community health. Several of its individual facilities also make the organizations’ “top hospital” rankings.

BayCare has grown through new investment to operate 15 hospitals across four counties. In Hillsborough County:  St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph’s Children’s, St. Joseph’s Women’s in Tampa; St. Joseph’s North in Lutz; St. Joseph’s South in Riverview; South Florida Baptist in Plant City. In Pinellas: Morton Plant in Clearwater; St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg; Mease Countryside in Safety Harbor; and Mease Dunedin. In Polk County: Winter Haven and Winter Haven Women’s; and Bartow Regional Medical Center. In Pasco: Morton Plant North Bay in Port Richey; and a new hospital, BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel, to open in 2023.

BayCare has built one of the region’s largest physician practices, BayCare Medical Group; the region’s most robust Ambulatory Division, which provides outpatient imaging, labs, urgent care and ambulatory surgery centers; and one of Florida’s largest home care operations, BayCare HomeCare. Now, roughly one in three people in West Central Florida relies on BayCare for their health care needs. BayCare Kids and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa are the region’s largest provider of pediatric care. And BayCare Behavioral Health provides more services than any other provider in the region and has committed to continue to grow to help serve the region’s unmet behavioral health needs.

The value to the community of this large, integrated and dispersed network of services and locations – backed by sound financial stewardship -- has been clear during the COVID-19 pandemic as BayCare shifted resources and services continuously to match public need. The system was among the first to offer public access to COVID-19 testing and partner with long-term care facilities to help isolate outbreaks among the frail and elderly, all while maintaining 24/7 access to its acute care facilities during multiple surges. It also kept intact its workforce, now 27,739 strong and one of the largest in the region.

BayCare has also maintained a deep commitment as a not-for-profit provider to Community Benefit, setting aside about 10 percent of its revenue annually for charity care, patient financial assistance and direct community investments. BayCare’s patient financial assistance program has the region’s most generous qualification requirements. And its direct investments, such as the 42 public school food pantries it underwrites in economically disadvantaged communities, are aimed at improving health outcomes by addressing social determinants of health, such as food insecurity.

“We were handed 25 years ago an enormous responsibility to serve our community. It wasn’t clear we would succeed, but we have, and we have no plans to stop,” said BayCare President and CEO Tommy Inzina, who was the system’s founding Chief Financial Officer. “It is our honor to be here for West Central Florida.”