AGH will become a children's hospital


Shands at AGH opened in 1928 as Alachua County Hospital with two operating rooms and 58 patient beds. Parts of the hospital constructed in 1958, when it was called Alachua General Hospital, are still in use today.

JOSHUA L. HALLEY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:41 a.m.
The future of Shands at AGH looked considerably brighter a week ago after an announcement from Shands HealthCare CEO Timothy Goldfarb.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, May 24, in a lobby packed with staff and employees, Goldfarb announced that the community hospital will become the new home for many of the children's services now being offered at Shands at the University of Florida.
Plans for the future of AGH won preliminary approval from the Shands board of directors earlier in the day.
Goldfarb said a major portion of the pediatric services provided at "big Shands" will be moved to AGH by September. The relocation is the first phase of the development of the southwest Gainesville site as a children's hospital.
"It was a natural choice because of the legacy of AGH as a family-oriented community hospital," he said. "The adult services that we have here today - that is the emergency department, family and community medicine - will continue. The children's services will bring new energy to this facility."
The announcement ended more than a year of speculation over the future of the hospital, which is the city's oldest.
Goldfarb pledged in March 2005 that Shands HealthCare would continue to operate AGH at its current location for five to 10 more years. But the uncertainty of the months since that announcement has seen a drain of physicians and staff from the hospital, according to one AGH physician.
Speculation had been rife that the hospital would be bulldozed and that a new hospital, perhaps with the AGH name, would open somewhere closer to Interstate 75 and the rapidly-expanding population of northwest Gainesville.
When AGH opened in 1928 as Alachua County Hospital, it had two operating rooms and 58 patient beds. Parts of the hospital constructed in 1958, when it was called Alachua General Hospital, are still in use today. Although Shands leadership acknowledged AGH's long history in the community, they have also previously cited the tremendous cost of supporting the aging physical plant.
Under the plan, these services would relocate to AGH:
  • Non-surgical pediatric services; Pediatric otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat); Orthopedics; Oral surgery; Outpatient surgery and consulting, support services.
    These pediatric services would stay at Shands at UF:
  • Cardiology; Cardiac surgery; Bone marrow; Neonatology; General surgery; Transplantation; Trauma/burn unit; Neurosurgery and parts of pediatric intensive care.
    The full-service emergency room at AGH will continue to offer services. The emergency department at AGH saw more patients than either Shands at UF or North Florida Regional Medical Center in 2003, according to the Florida Department of Health. "We believe our plans will provide a long-term solution to revitalizing Shands AGH while maintaining the essence of the hospital by supplementing its existing programs," Goldfarb said.f-z A second phase of the plan calls for construction of a patient bed tower in the newly relocated pediatric wing. That may be several years in the future, Goldfarb said, depending on the success of outside fund-raising.
    Goldfarb declined to give specifics of the cost for the multi-million-dollar project, but said he was "comfortable enough to tell you that we are moving ahead with these plans."
    AGH, PAGE 11A AGH from Page 1A Shands board supports plans Dr. Terry Flotte, chairman of the department of pediatrics in UF's College of Medicine, applauded the new plan.
    "We believe families will be able to get in and out of this facility with ease, and have a family-centered experience from door to door," Flotte said.
    Dr. Doug Barrett, UF's senior vice president for health affairs, called the plan "a real winner for the College of Medicine. It creates a vision of a place going forward into the future, instead of into the unknown."
    Others in the community said that not all the questions about the future of AGH were answered by today's announcement.
    Dr. David Black, a former chief of staff at AGH, said he was pleased to see Shands leaders "show some dedication to keep the place and the facility."
    Still to be resolved, in Black's view, is the issue of shrinking primary and secondary health services offered at AGH to residents of the east side of town and a number of rural communities.
    "This would be a good start if we can keep the conversation going," Black said Wednesday.
    Randi Cameon is a member of a group of residents that has been formed to look at disparities in health care in the community. The group, called the Health Care Is a Human Right Coalition, has called a town meeting for Saturday, June 17, to consider plans for AGH.
    "We want it to be a friendly collaboration between Shands' representatives, elected officials and local health-care consumers regarding a potentially unmet need for primary care for residents of this part of Gainesville and many outlying communities," she said.
    The agenda for the meeting will consider how to preserve what exists at AGH and build on it, and how to attract primary-care physicians to the hospital once pediatric services become a part of the picture there, Cameon said.
    Goldfarb said he understood the uncertainty felt by the staff of the hospital and the community it serves.
    "There are employees who have waited a very long time to have someone stand before them with a vision for this organization," he said.
    "We want to give the physicians and employees of AGH a sense of security and purpose for the future."
    Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com.
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