Flagler Health+, UF Health Presidents Address Partnership
The Flagler Health + and UF Health merger announcement has created tremendous interest in the future and advancement of healthcare in St. Johns County and the Jacksonville MSA. At the most recent Economic Development Council breakfast, Carlton Devooght, president and CEO of Flagler Health +, and Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at the University of Florida and president of UF Health, discussed the merger and why it will be a win for everyone in the region. One of the key questions was why merge and why now?
DeVooght, appointed president and CEO in March 2022, was just three months into his new job when he spoke with the Flagler Health+ Board of Directors about the need to join a like-minded health system to help enhance local health care services and expand access to care. There were several reasons for this. “In order to grow, we had to have access to capital markets,” said DeVooght. That meant having a partner with a greater scale. In this regard, UF Health, a $5 billion organization, would be an ideal partner.”
Another goal was the completion of the Flagler Health+ Durbin Park campus, which will feature an acute-care hospital, an outpatient surgery center, medical offices, and more on its 42.5-acre campus. This, along with the additional hospitals and healthcare complexes in the Flagler Health + system, will tie together with UF Health operations north, south, and west of St. Johns County.
UF Health plans to make a strong investment in the community. “One of the things we promised when we came to the table is to invest, invest not only in the St. Augustine campus but the Flagler footprint,” said Nelson. “This also means the introduction of medical training programs, new electronic health records, and full connectivity across the whole system.” This will provide more options and choices for residents.
There is also a strong commitment to retain the local hospital feel and level of care Flagler Health + has established in the county. Devooght said, “You cannot provide the best quality care if you don't have the best staff that feels empowered to do what they need to do for their patients, and so it is that commitment to that culture, those values, that led us to UF as a partner." Because of the alignment of values, Nelson said he doesn't anticipate mass staff changes when the merger is complete. "I want to dispel one notion: UF Health is not going to come in and just replace all the local doctors with UF doctors," Nelson said. "It's not the right strategy. It's not the way to embrace the community.”
Regarding the desire to strengthen retention, Flagler Health+ saw immediate results at a career fair in Gainesville following the announcement of the planned integration. Typically, the hospital system could expect three nursing students to express interest. “After this announcement, we received 34 resumes from nurses that will be joining our team,” DeVooght said.
While there are still details to finalize, the merger of Flagler Health + and UF Health will have a positive and long-term impact on healthcare in our region for years to come.