Staff, residents debate the future of Shands at AGH

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Some 75 people skipped the Gator basketball game and in many cases, dinner, to gather Wednesday night and discuss whether Shands at AGH has a future as a full-service community hospital.


FYI: Next meeting

  • When: Scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m.
  • Where: United Church of Gainesville fellowship hall, 1624 NW 5th Ave.

The group included a number of private physicians who see patients at AGH, members of the nursing staff and area residents whose family histories are linked to Shands at AGH, formerly Alachua General Hospital, which has been part of the community since 1928.

Dr. David Black, a family physician, said Shands HealthCare needs to be applauded for the ways in which it has already "gone to bat" for the community in recent years, first by establishing a Level 1 trauma center and more recently by creating a children's hospital in the west tower of AGH.

Black added that in his view, the administration of the University of Florida needs to make it clear how important the hospital is to the community.

More importantly, he said, patients must say to their own doctors that when they have a procedure done, or tests administered, they want to support their community hospital.

Black and other physicians in the crowd pointed out that insecurity about the strength of Shands' commitment to support adult services at the hospital has caused problems in staffing.

Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan pointed out that she was born at AGH while presenting the city's development plans for an innovation zone around the hospital.

"After all," Hanrahan said, "patients choose their doctors. It's the doctors who choose the hospital they'll send patients to, and that facility must be attractive to them."

In setting up an innovation zone, the city of Gainesville has contracted with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and will focus resources to encourage high-tech or biotech development in the area.

Because the section of southwest Gainesville around AGH is part of a community redevelopment area, Hanrahan said city and county taxes are redirected back into the area "to prime the pump for more redevelopment."

Still, the mayor added, in her view the city can do more to bring private physicians back to the hospital, perhaps through tax incentives or a form of "homestead exemption" for doctors who set up offices adjacent to the hospital.

"We also need to grow our own nurses," Hanrahan said, pointing out that Santa Fe Community College now turns away three of every four qualified nursing applicants because of space and faculty limitations.

The critical shortage at this juncture for AGH, audience members agreed, was a lack of primary care physicians.

"North Florida Regional Medical Center is making it very attractive for them, with lots of incentives," one listener said. "What is Shands doing to get and keep them?"

Dr. Bruce Stechmiller, who is on the Shands board of directors, agreed that "the No. 1, 2 and 3 need at AGH is in primary care."

There are three times as many primary care physicians at NFRMC, all with offices aligned close to the hospital campus.

Jean Chalmers said that the hospital would be better served if Shands would underwrite the costs of setting up offices for primary care physicians in one or more of the new commercial buildings planned near AGH.

The group plans another public meeting Feb. 28 to determine what can be put within the footprint that is AGH and the vicinity that will best serve the needs of area residents.

Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or

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