Local stories of 2013: UF, medicine, SF, public schools
Published: Sunday, December 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 29, 2013 at 9:34 p.m.
The year 2013 was an important one for the University of Florida. As it pursues top 10 status among America's public universities, UF secured funding in 2013 that will help it upgrade its faculty as well as allow it to establish Florida's first public online university.
2013 was also a big year for UF Health Shands Hospital and for North Florida Regional Medical Center across town.
Beginning here is a three-day look back at the news that shaped North Central Florida in 2013:
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Machen stayed, and the Legislature paid
The new year began with the suspension of a search for a new president after University of Florida President Bernie Machen agreed to stay on one more year at the request of Gov. Rick Scott and the UF Board of Trustees chairman, David Brown.
Machen, the 11th president of UF, had announced his retirement in 2012 after the governor vetoed legislation that would have given UF the means to pursue top 10 status. Machen gave the board a year to find a replacement.
The board's search committee had reviewed applications and lined up candidates to interview before cutting the process short and announcing in January Machen would stay.
“I have asked him to continue his service as president,” Gov. Scott said.
Machen said his priority would be to continue his push to turn UF into a top 10 university. “Now we stand at a crossroads to make giant strides. I have been asked to remain in office to lead that effort, and I am pleased to do so,” he said.
The Board of Trustees rewarded Machen's decision to stay by unanimously voting to increase his compensation package by $320,000 and extend his contract through Dec. 31, 2014.
Within several months the Legislature had passed a bill, signed by Scott, that gave UF pre-eminence status and allowed it to create an online university. The bill established 12 academic and research criteria to receive a pre-eminence designation, including that freshmen have a GPA of 4.0 or better and SAT scores of 1,800 or better, and that the universities have an endowment of $500 million or more and research grants totaling $350 million or more.
UF met all 12 criteria, while Florida State University met 11, also earning the pre-eminence designation.
UF and FSU will get $75 million over five years. UF will use that money to pursue its top 10 goals — an amount that Machen said would be matched with private donations.
The Board of Trustees approved a plan to use that money to recruit top-flight faculty from around the nation, and the UF Foundation launched an $800 million drive to create 100 endowed professorships and chairs.
Top 10 strategy
UF administrators picked 16 strategic areas for investment, including the McKnight Brain Institute, “Big Data,” cybersecurity, life sciences and food security.
The 16 areas were chosen based on UF's current strengths and expertise that could be built on, and on fields that had significant potential to develop over the next 10-15 years, Provost Joe Glover said.
UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute has developed a statistical approach to modeling malaria and other diseases but needed faculty who could do mathematical modeling to understand the spread of the disease. They'll be getting $300,000 to help reach that next level.
Also, $2.2 million will be spent on neuroscience and the brain, building on the work already established at the McKnight Brain Institute, Glover said.
The Informatics Institute is getting the largest share of the pre-eminence money — $3.8 million — and will involve faculty from several colleges — Medicine, Public Health and Health Professions, Nursing, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the Museum of Natural History.
The state gave UF $10 million in startup money for the online university, and $25 million over five years to develop the online course programs. Its goal is to offer the same level academic curriculum as the on-campus courses, at 75 percent of the cost of regular tuition, and without many of the fees residential students pay for activities and services.
“We don't want this degree to be a consolation prize for those that couldn't get into the residential program,” said Andy McCollough, associate provost for UF.
Budget projections show the online program operating in the red for the first four years and having a profit margin of $14.5 million with a cumulative fund balance of $43.6 million by the 10th year.
UF received much-needed maintenance and construction money from the state. It got $15 million toward the construction of a $60 million chemistry building, $11.6 million to help pay for the $75 million addition and renovation of the Reitz Union, and $16.5 million for “critical deferred maintenance,” Machen said.
UF also got $2 million for the Lastinger Center to teach algebra online, and $1.7 million to help restore historic buildings in St. Augustine.
Students arriving in the fall were greeted by the sight of the demolition of the iconic Colonnade to make way for a massive overhaul of the Reitz Union.
And the university announced plans to build its first new dorm in years, a $20 million project that will include specially designed features for students with severe physical disabilities.
The Board of Trustees also decided to spend $5 million building a new home for the next university president on land near the Levin College of Law. Construction is scheduled to begin during the first three months of 2014 and take 14 months to complete.
The project will be built entirely with private donations — including a $3.5 million gift from UF alumni John and Mary Lou Dasburg of Key Biscayne. In appreciation of their donation, officials said, the new home will be named the Dasburg President's House.
The existing president's house, which has not been lived in since 2006, will be renovated and used for official functions. It has been used for alumni offices and public events since Machen and his wife moved into a private house in Gainesville.
The Innovation Hub, an incubator for startup companies built on the site of the former Alachua General Hospital two blocks from UF, generated 15 new companies and 250 jobs for the local economy during its second year of operation.
The Hub also attracted more than $10 million in private investments, according to a report to the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The report, which covers the period from when the Hub opened in October 2011 through the end of June, is part of a requirement of the $8.2 million EDA grant used to help build the 48,000-square-foot Innovation Hub on Southwest Second Avenue between UF and downtown Gainesville. UF contributed $5 million to complete the project.
The Hub is the catalyst for the 40-acre Innovation Square, which planners expect will attract private investors to develop 5 million square feet of office space, research labs, retail and office space, a hotel and residential space.
— Jeff Schweers
MEDICINE IN GAINESVILLE
North Florida Regional's new wing
In late June, North Florida Regional Medical Center unveiled its new South Tower, marking the completion of a $120 million expansion project that began five years ago. The four-story tower includes a new heart and vascular suite, a new maternity, postpartum and neonatal intensive care unit, and a new neurology floor.
The fourth phase of expansion cost $62 million. Previous projects in the expansion project include the addition of a $18.7 million Cancer Center in 2009, a $4 million electrophysiology catheterization lab, expansion of the Women's Center operating rooms, and a 562-space parking garage.
The hospital, which was founded 40 years ago with just 63 physicians, now has 445 beds and employs more than 450 physicians.
UF Health Shands Hospital expansion
UF Health Shands Hospital is building a new tower on east Archer Road to include its neuromedicine and cardiovascular hospitals. It will include 240 beds, 18 operating rooms, intensive care units and outpatient facilities. Construction is set to begin in summer 2014, with completion in 2018, at a cost of $400 million.
The idea is that moving these specialties will create more space for other departments in the North Tower, especially general medicine and the children's hospital.
Shands is also revamping its children's hospital, including renovating part of the 10th floor for pediatric intensive care, most of which will be used for pediatric congenital heart disease patients.
In August, UF Health Shands Emergency Center-Springhill opened for patients in the northwest part of town.
Bacteria infection in burn unit
A bacterial infection entered the burn unit of UF Health Shands Hospital sometime between March and late July, infecting eight patients. The hospital would not confirm whether any patients had died.
Shands temporarily closed the burn unit, then completely revamped it and changed its infection control practices.
The bacteria, called acinetobacter baumannii, typically affect very sick patients and live on surfaces and in soil. It can cause ventilator-associated pneumonia, urinary tract infections and infections in the blood, lung and brain.
An estimated 50,000 cases of the bacterial infection occur annually in the U.S., and the bacteria is transmitted from devices such as IVs, urine catheters and blood pressure cuffs.
It is resistant to all but one antibiotic, called Colistin, which causes kidney damage.
The mother of an Ocala man, Keith Mahabirsingh, who suffered burns over 50 percent of his body after his truck crashed and burst into flames, said that her son developed infections leading to his death that she believes might have been related to acinetobacter baumannii. The hospital had no comment on the case.
UF Health Shands Hospital paid the U.S. Department of Justice $26 million in August in a settlement over allegations of billing processes resulting in overpayments by Medicare and Medicaid.
The whistle-blower lawsuit was filed in 2008, following an independent contractor's routine audit of Shands' billing practices between 2003 and 2008.
The U.S. Department of Justice said the hospital knowingly submitted inpatient claims for services and procedures that the hospital knew were billable only as outpatient.
Shands CEO Timothy Goldfarb said there was confusion about the billing with regard to “observation status” versus “inpatient status” categories as a consequence of a lack of clarity in CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services) regulations.
Cancer rates high in North Central Florida
Death rates for the 10 most prevalent cancers in Florida are highest in the 11 counties that span North Central Florida, according to a report from the North Central Florida Cancer Control Collaborative released in early 2013.
The report, which was part of a CDC initiative, also showed that several counties in the region have a mortality rate that exceeds the U.S. average. Experts said that the majority of cancer cases came from rural areas and that those patients tended to be diagnosed at later stages of cancer and have worse outcomes.
Experts also linked the results to poverty and income inequalities in the region, the lack of primary care physicians in rural areas, and the high uninsured rate among patients in rural areas.
Rabies-infected donated organ from Gainesville
A Maryland transplant patient who died in March of rabies received his transplanted kidney, infected with rabies, from the LifeQuest Organ Recovery Center in Gainesville.
The patient was one of four organ recipients from the same infected donor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
LifeQuest said it doesn't routinely test for rabies in donated organs because it had never occurred before this case. They said they believed the donor had ciguatera, a food-borne illness from reef fish that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, arrhythmias and neurological symptoms like blurred vision.
After the Maryland patient died, LifeQuest was asked to send the donor's blood sample to the CDC, where rabies was confirmed. The donor had contracted rabies from a raccoon bite.
The CDC estimates that one to three cases of rabies occur each year in the U.S., rarely in organ transplants. The most recent case of rabies because of a transplanted organ occurred in Texas in 2004.
Boy overcomes rattler's bite
In June, 11-year-old Benjamin Smith survived a bite from a 5-foot-long Eastern diamondback rattlesnake that he encountered while running through a wooded area in Newberry at a friend's birthday party.
Within two hours of the bite, Smith was at UF Health Shands Hospital, where antivenin was being pumped into his veins. The hospital had to use a record high amount of antivenin to rid the venom from Benjamin's body.
Because the bite was so deep in his leg, they used 80 vials, compared with the 30-some normally required for life-threatening snake bites. The cost was estimated to be about $1.6 million.
Diamondback snake bites are relatively rare. Most bites in Florida are from cottonmouths and pygmy rattlers.
UF rescinds offer to surgeon Mark Plunkett
In October, the University of Florida rescinded its offer to hire Dr. Mark Plunkett, a cardiothoracic surgeon from the University of Kentucky whose program there was shut down for reasons that have not been publicly disclosed.
The vice president of health affairs at UK told CNN last summer that the decision was made in part because the mortality rates were not what he wanted them to be. CNN also reported that two patients on whom Plunkett operated died last year, and two others had postoperative complications.
UF had hired Plunkett in the midst of the ongoing investigations at UK after talking to numerous physicians in Kentucky who were confident of Plunkett's surgical abilities. UF hired him to flesh out the three-surgeon cardiothoracic surgeon team at UF, which performs about 250 pediatric procedures annually.
UF said its decision to rescind its offer was not a reflection of Plunkett's abilities as a physician, but rather in the best interests of UF.
UF Health Shands Hospital gets high rankings
U.S. News & World Report ranked UF Health Shands Hospital among the nation's best for five adult and six pediatric specialties, according to rankings released in July. The urology department was ranked 18th — the hospital's highest ranking and the state's highest ranking in urology.
Shands also placed 37th in the nation for neurology and neurosurgery — also the highest in these areas for the state.
Shands' nephrology department was ranked 34th; cardiology and heart surgery 47th; and pulmonology 49th. The hospital was also listed as a “high-performing” hospital in cancer; diabetes and endocrinology; ear, nose and throat; gastroenterology and GI surgery; geriatrics; gynecology; and orthopedics.
The hospital overall received the third-highest ranking in the state, followed by Orlando's Florida Hospital and the Tampa General Hospital.
— Kristine Crane
SANTA FE COLLEGE
Still riding high on being named to the Aspen Institute's list of top 10 community colleges in late 2012, Santa Fe College sailed into 2013 ready to pick up more accolades and attract prominent personalities to its campus.
Here's a look at some of what happened at SF College this year:
SF gets policing award
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, which is the world's largest organization of its type, awarded the Santa Fe College Police Department its inaugural “Innovations in Community Oriented Policing” award for significant contributions to the community, including the “Safe Santa Fe” initiative that started in 2012.
“Safe Santa Fe” includes a campus watch program, community policing, professional training for officers and mutual aid with five other law enforcement agencies.
Fugate to students: Take risks
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, an alumnus of SF College, spoke at the college's spring commencement ceremony and encouraged graduates to take risks. “You've pushed yourself so far,” he told the 700 students who participated in the ceremony. “But what about tomorrow?”
A bigger raise
After a few thin years, Santa Fe College employees got a bigger raise this year. Full-time employees received a 5 percent raise in base pay, and part-time employees received a 3 percent raise.
“Even in these lean years, we've tried to do something,” human resources director Lela Frye said. “There's never been a year that they haven't received something.”
By comparison, last year full-time employees received a 2 percent raise, and a couple of years ago every employee got a one-time bonus, Frye said.
— Erin Jester
Alachua County Public Schools saw big changes this year, coming from both the Legislature and from within. Some of the highlights:
Officers at elementary schools
Partly in response to the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December 2012, the Gainesville Police Department, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and Alachua County Public Schools forged an agreement to put school resource officers in district elementary schools. Each high school already had resource officers.
“Protecting these children needs to be our priority,” GPD Chief Tony Jones said. “They are our most vulnerable citizens.”
Over the summer, security cameras were installed at the front entrance of every public school, with additional cameras installed on larger campuses.
Every district school also began using the Raptor system, a database that checks visitors' names against a state list of sex offenders. Visitors to public schools must now present a government-issued ID to enter.
Faculty, staff get raises
Every Alachua County public school teacher and support staff member will got a raise — the first increase in base pay for five years.
Instructional staff salaries rose by an average of 5 percent (about $2,050) and educational support professionals received 4 percent increases.
All Alachua County public school employees also received a one-time 2 percent bonus from $2 million in local funds allocated by the School Board.
Dan Boyd retires
After nine years as superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools and more than 40 in education, Superintendent Dan Boyd announced his retirement.
“They always say you know when it's time, and I know it's time for me to retire,” Boyd, 72, said at the time. “And I greatly appreciate your courtesies and the opportunity to fulfill my dream.”
Deputy Superintendent Hershel Lyons assumed the role of interim superintendent on Oct. 1, saying he would not be going after the permanent position.
After a series of public forums seeking feedback from the community, the board will publish ads for the position in education journals beginning in January. There will be a national search.
The board aims to have a new superintendent in office on July 1.
Testing and school grades
Alachua County Public Schools held their own against other districts on standardized tests and school grades.
In FCAT reading, 60 percent of Alachua County fourth- and fifth-graders achieved a satisfactory score, along with 59 percent of sixth-graders, 56 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders and 57 percent of ninth-graders.
Fifty-nine percent of Alachua County 10th-graders scored level 3 or above on FCAT reading, the minimum score required to graduate from high school. The state average is 54 percent.
FCAT math results were slightly lower but still near the state averages, with 60 percent of Alachua County fourth-graders, 55 percent of fifth-graders, 53 percent of sixth-graders and 51 percent of seventh-graders scoring level 3 or better.
Of the 50 public non-high schools, charter schools and learning centers rated in Alachua County, seven schools received an A, 17 had B's, six had C's, five had D's and four received F's.
Sweetwater Branch Academy charter school closed as a result of its elementary school's failing grade.
High school grades were released later: Gainesville, Newberry and Santa Fe high schools all earned an A; Buchholz, Eastside and Loften earned B's and Hawthorne High dropped to an F.
More than 99 percent of district teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective.”
— Erin Jester