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The rumors aren’t true: Moffitt and USF maintain relationship

Moffitt Cancer Center is severing all ties to the University of South Florida. Moffitt plans to move off campus. Moffitt is trading in USF for the University of Florida.

None of the above are true. However, all of these rumors have circulated the Tampa Bay area at some point since Moffitt opened its doors on the Tampa campus in 1986. Like a children’s game of telephone, Moffitt Chief Executive Officer William Dalton and USF Health Senior Vice President Stephen Klasko said small pieces of news have traveled from person to person, warping into stories they say are untrue.

“I don’t why there are any rumors,” Klasko said. “It’s like a couple renewing their vows and somebody says, ‘Hey, I heard you were getting a divorce.’ It just doesn’t make sense.”

Moffitt’s relationship with USF has changed over the years, they said, but that doesn’t mean either organization plans on “breaking up.”

Rumor No. 1: Moffitt’s national prominence has caused the center to take steps to move away from its USF affiliation

Although Moffitt is the only cancer care facility in Florida – and one of 64 nationwide – to be designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), that doesn’t mean the center is too prestigious for USF. In fact, this honor requires that Moffitt be connected with the University.

“In order to be a national cancer institute, you have to have an academic partner,” Klasko said. “You couldn’t just open a cancer center – even if you hired every great doctor in the country – and become NCI designated, so we are Moffitt’s academic partner.”

This partnership, Klasko said, requires every Moffitt doctor on campus to be a USF faculty member. It also means that USF Health works with Moffitt when the center is up for NCI re-accreditation – and provides a perk for USF medical students.

“We have an affiliation agreement, which is an exclusive agreement so that our medical students are the only medical students who do their clerkships – their third-year required rotations – at Moffitt,” Klasko said.

Moffitt earned its NCI designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – NCI’s highest designation – in 2001, according to Since then, USF and Moffitt have amended their affiliation agreement – the contract outlining their relationship – multiple times. Klasko and Dalton said these changes have nothing to do with Moffitt’s prominence, however.

More independence, less inefficiencyThe St. Petersburg Times reported that, in 2002, Moffitt cut out the middleman, so to speak, as it stopped receiving grants and state funding through USF and began getting them directly. Though this gave Moffitt more independence from USF, Klasko and Dalton said the change helped both parties.

For Moffitt, the change meant a higher indirect cost rate on grants. According to, an indirect cost rate is a way of determining how much of the grant recipient’s overhead costs should be reimbursed for fulfillment of the grant’s purpose.

“Universities traditionally don’t obtain as high an indirect cost rate,” Dalton said. “Our indirect cost rate is around 70 percent, whereas most universities are in the 40s and 50s, so we gain 20 percent more of the dollars that could come to us. The bottom line is you can’t leave money on the table. That’s hard to come by, and so by Moffitt being able to apply for its own grants, we get more indirect costs.”

This move also helped Moffitt and the University by serving as a reminder that the cancer center and USF are two separate institutions – so each party could receive its own funding. In effect, this separation benefits all of Tampa, Klasko said.

“For example, there was just a Center of Excellence proposal, where $100 million of state funding would go to different cities, and there were about 50 proposals, and they were going to fund the top seven,” he said. “No. 5 was Moffitt, and Nos. 6 and 7 were USF. At the end of the day, assuming all three are funded, three will be in Tampa. It’s to Tampa Bay’s advantage to have two excellent organizations that are on the same campus that are both bringing in money for research.”

Two years later, Moffitt and USF extended the deadline for the renewal of their affiliation agreement twice, as they determined whether about 100 doctors should be employed by Moffitt instead of USF. By August 2005, the agreement was renewed, keeping Moffitt’s doctors as members of USF faculty and recognizing USF Health and Moffitt’s separate missions and similar goals.

In 2007, The Oracle reported that the payroll of about 150 faculty members would transfer from USF Health to Moffitt. This allowed Moffitt to pay for researchers directly, rather than transferring funds to USF Health, and in effect eliminated some of both parties’ administrative duties. The policy took effect Jan. 1, 2008.

“When you look at other cancer centers, they prefer to employ their own doctors, because, frankly, they have more control over them and they can align them with the cancer center’s mission,” Klasko said. “That’s something that Moffitt has wanted to do since they opened, and now that both of us are strong enough – the school is moving up rapidly and Moffitt is moving up rapidly – Dr. Dalton and I thought that this would be a good time to do that.”

Rumor No. 2: Moffitt is too big for USF and is considering moving off campus

As both USF Health and Moffitt expanded – both in size and national recognition – people began talking about whether the Tampa campus was big enough for both of them.

The Tampa Tribune explored this rumor in 2006, when the newspaper ran an article titled “Moffitt needs land to expand.” The article outlined moves Moffitt was considering, including a relocation to Pasco County and expansions into areas near Busch Gardens. Moffitt’s first choice, according to the article, was to move off campus entirely, but because of the costs of the move and the displacement of USF Health faculty who worked on site at Moffitt, the center had considered expanding near campus.

Michael Hoad, USF’s vice president for communications, said that Moffitt considered land in Pasco for an expansion project, but came back to Hillsborough.

“Moffitt just doubled its square footage at USF, and is building more,” he said. “It would take billions to rebuild all of that somewhere else.”

Dalton echoed Hoad’s comments and said Moffitt has no plans of relocating.

“We’re on this campus – we have been since the inception. I certainly don’t know of anything that would have us move,” he said.

Rumor No. 3: Moffitt plans on swapping its USF affiliation for one with UF

Though Moffitt is arranging a partnership with UF and Shands Hospital in Gainesville, the cancer center has no plans to trade out its NCI-designated academic partner once its agreement with USF is up for renewal in 2015, Dalton said.

In fact, the partnership would be just one of many partnerships Moffitt and USF have with other institutions. Moffitt also has an affiliation agreement with Florida Atlantic University to collaborate in research involving new cancer-fighting drugs, according to FAU’s Web site. Similarly, Klasko said USF Health has agreements with other hospitals such as All Children’s Hospital and Tampa General Hospital.

“The University of Florida is building a cancer center, and they thought it would be best if Moffitt helped build it because of its NCI designation,” he said.

Klasko said he thought the hospital at UF would be like a branch of Moffitt Cancer Center, and compared the creation of the hospital to a franchise that offers a similar product of a similar quality to more people.

“You know, it’s like how there’s a Burger King in Tampa and a Burger King in Gainesville,” he said. “It’s part of the same brand identity, but with different people.”

This falls in line with the goal outlined in press releases announcing the pending partnership: expanding Moffitt’s model of cancer treatment, called Total Cancer Care (TCC), to a wider audience.

“Moffitt’s TCC program is a very sophisticated approach to blending cancer research with patient care so that the best treatment can be offered to patients,” said Tom Fortner, director of UF Health Science Center news and communication. “Moffitt has been developing this for a number of years, and we think it’s something we can participate in.”

This partnership could also offer other benefits to UF.

“UF does not have the (NCI) designation that Moffitt has,” he said. “If we can partner with them it’ll open the door to grants and clinical trials, which is of great interest to us.”

Should Moffitt and UF form a partnership, UF’s affiliation with Shands Hospital will remain intact.

“Our clinical partner is Shands, and there’s no change anticipated in our relationship with them,” Fortner said.

Changing partnership, continuing relationshipKlasko and Dalton said the changes in Moffitt and USF’s affiliation are a natural part of hospital and university relationships.

“The fact is that cancer centers across the country look to create their own identity, just like how All Children’s Hospital has its own identity,” Klasko said. “I think that maybe five or 10 years ago, Moffitt was the one thing we could hold on to that had significant national prominence. Now, we’re still thrilled to be associated with them, but we have some things that make us stand out as well.”

Over the years, USF Health has been designated as one of the top 20 quality health science centers by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and its pathology and cell biology program is ranked among the nation’s top 25 by the United States and Canadian Academy of pathology, Inc. Its other affiliated hospitals have also grown in national prominence, Klasko said.

“I think when you get that sort of recognition, it’s not unusual that you start spreading your wings,” Dalton said. “That’s because more opportunities come your way. We’re having more and more recognition, as is the University and the College of Medicine, and those are good things. We have every intention of being affiliated with USF for as long as I’m here – and I hope that’s a while – and, quite frankly, beyond.”