A New Era for Boca Raton Regional Hospital and Delray Looks at its Future

BRRH incoming CEO Lincoln Mendez and CEO Jerry Fedele

It is no overstatement that Monday was the most important day for Boca Raton Regional Hospital since it opened 52 years ago.

The partnership with Baptist Health South Florida took effect at 12:01 a.m. Incoming CEO Lincoln Mendez was there for it. During the 10 a.m. news conference, Mendez said he started on the ninth floor of the tower and worked his way down. He already had held two staff meetings that a Boca Regional representative said were “standing room only.”

Mendez said he was running on about three hours sleep. “I’m pretending that I’m a doctor,” joked the longtime health care executive. Like current CEO Jerry Fedele, Mendez is not a physician.

Though many participants might have been short on rest, the mood in the room at the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute was upbeat. No one winced when Baptist Health CEO Brian E. Keeley opened the event by referring to Boca “Ratahn” Regional. People wore “Together we’re better” T-shirts with the respective logos. The food was plentiful and upscale, if not necessarily health-first. Chicken and waffles, anyone?

Keeley thanked the Boca Regional board “for your confidence in us.” He said the hospital “will be keeping the promise”—echoing the mission statement of co-founder Gloria Drummond—by continuing to stress “clinical excellence.” Baptist Health intends to make Boca Regional “the preeminent health care delivery system in the region.”

Everyone seemed so comfortable with the new arrangement that it’s hard to imagine how jolting it seemed when Fedele and Boca Regional Board Chairman Richard Schmidt announced it two years ago. Boca Regional was doing so well, some people said. Look at all the new facilities—such as the women’s institute. What’s up?

On Monday, Fedele explained the decision in simple terms. Yes, the women’s institute has had 20 percent growth over the last year. But Boca Regional, which began with 104 beds and now has about 400, had “too many patients and not enough capacity.” Even with Boca Raton’s philanthropic base, industry consolidation could have left the hospital vulnerable over the next decade.

Fedele cited “dozens of reasons” for Boca Regional picking Baptist Health—the cultures are similar, both are non-profits—but he noted that “our new partners” are the largest health care provider in South Florida. Baptist already has boosted Boca Regional’s $500 million makeover to a $650 million project.

Mendez succeeding Fedele in a month will be the most visible personnel changes, but there will be others. Christine Lynn will join Baptist Health’s executive committee. Former Baptist CFO Ralph Lawson and Coral Gables homebuilder James Carr will join the Boca Regional board.

The partnership’s shakedown cruise has just started. Still, you could imagine Monday as the start of a needed new era for “The Miracle on Meadows Road.”

And looking back

As I listened to the speakers on Monday, I thought about the late Carol Hanson.

The former Boca Raton mayor and city councilwoman could drive you nuts. She sometimes treated dissenting opinion like hazardous waste.

Even some of her critics, though, acknowledged that Hanson wanted the best for Boca Raton. That’s why she protested strongly when some board members of what then was Boca Raton Community Hospital tried to sell it.

The news broke in November 1996. The trustees had tried to keep everything secret. Some trustees who had been present at the hospital’s creation threatened to sue, in an attempt to block the sale.

It was bad. One rumor had the hospital going to a for-profit company. The revenue would create a foundation, with hospital trustees getting paid to manage the assets.

The Florida attorney general’s office intervened. A month later, the sale was off.

Hanson wasn’t the only council member who got cranky. Few elected officials, however, did cranky better than her. The community saw a community asset in danger. The community saved Boca Regional so Fedele and his team could save it 12 years later when it faced a deficit of $120 million. Both rescues made Monday possible.

Delray asks “Who are we?”

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Delray Beach city commission will debate a fundamental question at this afternoon’s workshop meeting: What kind of a community do we want?

The agenda item is the city’s comprehensive plan, called Always Delray. It has 13 parts, called elements. Commissioners discussed four last month.

Delray Beach adopted its plan in 1989, as new leaders took actions that started the city’s remarkable revival. The city has amended the plan many times in small ways. The current effort, though, has taken two years. Development Services Director Tim Stillings said the goal is a plan that will “guide Delray Beach for the next 20 years.” Stillings calls it the “first major update” in a decade.

The planning documents note how much Delray Beach has changed in 30 years. The first long-term plan sought to manage what city leaders hoped would be growth. That happened. Delray Beach’s population in 1990 was about 48,000. Today, it’s about 70,000.

The city is thus 99 percent built out. The new focus is “not upon accommodating future growth but upon quality development of remaining vacant areas and redevelopment of areas which are in a state of decline or deterioration. Redevelopment is also a goal for commercial and industrial areas which are no longer functionally competitive in the regional marketplace.”

That goal aligns with what the commission has discussed over the last few months. Example: the study analyzing Delray Beach’s economy and the need to expand the commercial property tax base.

Current elements of the plan include the expected basics, from land use to transportation to recreation. Always Delray will add three elements: historic preservation, economic prosperity and education. That last topic is especially important. Delray Beach believes that better schools can attract more middle-class residents.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston said, “I want something we all can refer back to when we are weighing any big topic. I should be able to go to that section (of the plan) and realize that if I want to deviate from it, I need to explain my position very well.”

Economic development director

In keeping with the comprehensive plan, Delray Beach will change the job of economic development director.    

It has been a community redevelopment agency position, though the director also has helped on projects outside the CRA boundaries. To increase that citywide focus, the director will become a city employee, though the city and CRA will split the cost 50-50. The director also will hire an economic development manager.

According to a memo from Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young, “Having the Office of Economic Development” as a city department “provides clearer representation, distinction, focus and authority related to the city’s economic development strategies.”

Lauzier lawsuit

Former Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier

Delray Beach is seeking to dismiss former City Manager Mark Lauzier’s wrongful termination lawsuit.

Lauzier, whom the commission fired on March 1, claims that the commission acted because he challenged Mayor Shelly Petrolia’s attempt to have the city pay her son’s expenses for a trip to Tallahassee. As such, the lawsuit says, Lauzier’s response falls under the Florida Whistleblowers Protection Act.

The city contends that Lauzier violated the charter by hiring qualified people outside the normal process and paying them excessively. City Attorney Lynn Gelin laid out that case on March 1, after which the vote to fire Lauzier for cause was unanimous. The city further argues that law does not cover the action related to Petrolia.

A judge will hear the city’s motion for dismissal on Aug. 30. Delray Beach also is seeking payment from Lauzier for its legal fees, arguing that the lawsuit has no merit and thus is frivolous.

New CRA director

Jeff Costello

Meanwhile, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Association has hired Renee Jadusingh as executive director, replacing Jeff Costello. Jadusingh had been assistant director, so she will hire her replacement.

Commissioner Boylston said he still wants the CRA board—five of whose seven members are the mayor and city commission—to consider whether the CRA director should report to the city manager. The CRA leader has reported to the board, but arrangement dates to when the board was independent.

Boylston likes the timing, since the commission likely will choose a permanent manager by the end of the month. Presumably, the commissioners could ask the applicants their thoughts on the idea.

Boca communications tower

The Palm Beach County Commission last week unanimously approved construction of a 400-foot communications tower on Boca Raton’s current municipal golf course.

Opponents had protested the height and the location, on the southeast edge of the property. The city will own the tower and share it with the county. Both agencies will use it for their police and fire radio systems.

Commissioner Robert Weinroth, whose district includes Boca Raton, said, “I expect there’ll be a lawsuit” from nearby property owners. One has a vacant parcel that he says will lose value because of the tower.

Weinroth, however, pointed out that the man has an even taller tower on his own, adjoining land. “After Parkland,” Weinroth said, “it’s clear that public safety has to be a priority.” The response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting suffered because of Broward County’s faulty radio system.

Tri-Rail lease

Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

The Tri-Rail board voted Friday to have the agency’s staff bring what Executive Director Steven Abrams called “a final lease” agreement to next month’s meeting for land next to the station on Yamato Road in Boca Raton.

PEBB Enterprises wants to build space for medical offices, stores and restaurants on the six acres. Abrams said Tri-Rail might include 11 adjacent acres owned by the Lake Worth Drainage District “if (the site) is even viable.”

Coco Gauff carries on the legacy

Venus Williams knows personally that America’s next African-American female tennis star might come from Delray Beach.

The 39-year-old winner of seven Grand Slam championships lost Monday at Wimbledon to 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff, who at one point was hitting on the courts at Pompey Park. Gauff, the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in a decade, beat Williams 6-4, 6-4.

News reports noted that Williams had won four of those major titles before Gauff was born. Gauff has told reporters that she models herself after Venus and her sister Serena, who has won 23 Grand Slam championships—the most of any player in the Open Era.

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