Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced last week that it has chosen Baptist Health South Florida as its partner in a deal designed to position the facility for the next generation of health care.

The deal isn’t done. As Boca Regional CEO Jerry Fedele said during an interview Friday, however, there is a “very, very high likelihood” that it will happen. Over the next 60 days, Boca Regional and Baptist Health will draft a letter of intent. Fedele then expects that the deal will close by the end of the year.

Nobody has called this a merger. Fedele said, “I wouldn’t be apoplectic if people used the word.” Basically, though, “We are becoming part of Baptist Health.”

The partnership would bring change to Boca Regional; that’s the point. But first, here’s what wouldn’t change:

  • The name. Boca Regional would remain Boca Regional, though probably with a tagline or other reference to Baptist Health.
  • The board. Boca Regional would continue to have separate trustees, though they would coordinate with their counterparts at Baptist. If Boca Regional wanted to add a comparatively minor program, the hospital likely could do that on its own. If Boca Regional wanted to add what Fedele called “the next institute”—like the Marcus Neuroscience Institute—that likely would require a consultation. “Where those lines are,” Fedele said, will be part of the discussion over the next two months.
  • Philanthropy. What’s raised in Boca would stay in Boca. The hospital’s foundation, a separate corporation, would remain.
Jerry Fedele

So what would change? The most obvious development would be what Fedele called “a very material capital commitment” toward Boca Regional’s new inpatient building. Those glittery new institutes that Fedele described as “nothing short of spectacular” surround the hospital’s historic, aging tower.

Fedele said Boca Regional is short on operating rooms and private rooms for patients. That commitment toward the capital campaign “was at the top of our list.”

The patient experience also would change, though Fedele said most differences would stem from changes within the industry, not the deal with Baptist. Those shifts, which Fedele said are accelerating, prompted Boca Regional to seek the partnership. Though its position now is strong, doing nothing could leave the hospital behind after the next decade.

Why Baptist and not Cleveland Clinic, the other finalist?

“It was a tough choice,” Fedele said.

Cleveland Clinic boasts not just a strong national brand but also an international presence. It has a facility in Weston.

Miami-Dade-based Baptist Health, however, brings dominance in South Florida, from the Keys to Palm Beach County. Baptist has almost 20,000 employees, 3,000 doctors and facilities—including nine hospitals—throughout the region.

“They are locally grounded,” Fedele said. Baptist previously struck a deal with Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach. Boca Regional wanted a non-profit partner. West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center are part of for-profit Tenet Healthcare.

Fedele called Baptist “the best fit. It was the closest to us culturally and clinically. The medical staff culture is the same.” Fedele said Boca Regional emphasizes employee morale. Becker’s Healthcare Review has rated the hospital among the 150 best places to work in the industry. Meanwhile, Fortune magazine recently ranked Baptist Health 25th on its list of best companies to work for nationwide in any industry.

Fedele noted that the company acquired Fishermen’s Hospital in the Keys two months before Hurricane Irma destroyed it. Now Baptist is building a new, $40 million facility. In the meantime, Baptist has set up what amounts to a field hospital.

In a statement, Baptist Health said, “Boca Raton Regional Hospital aligns strategically with our organization and our plans to improve access to quality healthcare in our region. We share not-for-profit values of exceptional quality and service for our patients, high physician and employee engagement and a commitment to the communities we serve.”

From Boca Regional, Baptist would get $500 million in revenue and a hospital with a great local reputation. Discussions from here, Fedele said, will focus on “clinical programs, governance” and all the other issues that involve many lawyers. Boca Regional would hold a community meeting before the board voted on a deal.

Ultimately, Fedele said, “Everything can’t be embodied in a written agreement. The contract is a failsafe.” That’s another reference to the culture he believes Boca Regional and Baptist Health share. If he’s right, the two will be partners in 2019.

Hospital addition plans change

Boca Regional’s capital campaign includes not just the new patient tower but also a connecting parking garage and a power plant.

The city council approved the garage plan, but the project was delayed after neighbors unsuccessfully challenged the approval. Now the plan has changed.

Fedele said the hospital had wanted to build the garage in two phases. Instead, the plan is to break ground in March and complete the garage in one phase by “November or December.” It will replace the surface lot. Because of the expected disruption, most of the work will happen during the summer and before high season.