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Klasko: Were open for business

Despite longstanding partnerships with local hospitals, the USF College of Medicine (COM) is not done looking for more partners for future development.

“If we have re-branded ourselves, it’s around solving tomorrow’s health problems today,” said Stephen Klasko, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the COM. “We’re open for business for anybody in the country or the world who wants to work with us.”

Klasko said the college is looking to partner with hospitals that have a specialized area of focus or are owned by national health care chains, such as Adventist and the Hospital Corporation of America.

“Adventist just bought (University Community Hospital) and that’s a very different dynamic than when it was run by a single entity that was underfunded,” Klasko said. “They are now a very important piece of what we do. I’m not sure that the hospitals down in south Tampa recognized that change. I think it’s more of a difference in strategy and philosophy.”

Klasko said the COM is viewed as a medical school based in Tampa, but is really a national brand. Instead of limiting students’ professional education to Tampa, the COM works with top hospitals around the world to provide its physicians with advanced research and training, as well as keep up with technical “changes in health care.”

“Some of our hospital partners haven’t caught on with (the changes in health care) and we don’t want to be tied into what their strategies are,” Klasko said.

John Dunn, director of communications at Tampa General Hospital (TGH), said in an email that the COM currently works with TGH in downtown Tampa – the primary teaching hospital for the college since its creation in the early ’70s.

“Tampa General is very proud of our affiliation with the USF College of Medicine and that pride is reflected in our advertising and in our financial support to the university,” Dunn said. “Tampa General positions our affiliation with USF in all our advertising, including print, billboards and television.”

Dunn said TGH “has invested $485 million in facilities and equipment over the past 10 years and provides about $47 million annually to support USF post-graduate education and clinical activities.”

Yet, Klasko said the COM really needs a “strategically aligned hospital” that would be widely recognized as part of USF.

“If you go to Pittsburgh, there is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and everyone knows that that’s a strategically aligned hospital with the University of Pittsburgh, and in Tampa you just don’t know,” he said. “If you look at Tampa General’s billboards, (no one) other than maybe the crows, (will) hardly know that they are affiliated with the (COM).”

Tampa is the only large community that doesn’t have an academic medical center, Klasko said, and “now that we have become such a huge research medical school we deserve one.” He said it “hurts the community” to not have an academic medical center and that is why the COM is looking for another hospital to align with.

Dunn said TGH continues to look for new ways to strengthen the relationship between the hospital, USF and the community. However, Klasko said the COM has had to fight to gain access to certain departments in the past.

“We were the only medical school in the country that did not have an orthopedic department and the only reason we didn’t have one is because Tampa General didn’t want us to, so we built one with UCH,” Klasko said. “Eventually, Tampa General came in.”

Klasko said the issue is that in every other community there is one hospital that is “yours, if you’re a good research medical school.”

He said it has been amazing that the COM has gotten where it is without a flagship hospital under USF President Judy Genshaft’s leadership, but at some point it will stop the progress of moving forward.

“I think there are no limits to partnership with Tampa General,” he said. “I think the strategies of the current management of Tampa General are divergent from ours.”