Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Boca Hospital Aims For Bigger & Better—and a First Interview with New CEO Lincoln Mendez

Boca Raton Regional Hospital doesn’t become part of Baptist Health South Florida until July 1, but the relationship already is paying off.


CEO Jerry Fedele told me Friday that Baptist not only will contribute to Boca Regional’s master plan; Baptist wants the plan to be bigger.

Boca Regional had wanted to build a new patient tower and to renovate the existing tower, which dates to 1967. The city had approved a parking garage as part of the project.

Baptist reviewed the plan, Fedele said, and offered an alternative that will create two new towers—renovations are out—and a second garage. All rooms would be private. All the operating rooms would be new. There would be ambulatory surgical centers. Assuming the city approves the plan, “It will be bigger, better, newer and quicker,” Fedele said.

Lincoln Mendez, Fedele’s successor, will oversee that plan. I spoke Monday with Mendez in what was his first interview since the search committee chose him to be Boca Regional’s first new CEO in 11 years.

Lincoln Mendez, incoming CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital

Mendez is 63 and has spent his professional life in health care, the last 15 years with Baptist Health South Florida and roughly the last decade as CEO of South Miami Hospital. He began as a medical technician, moved on to lab director and finally obtained a master’s degree in health care administration from Florida International University.

Boca Regional, Mendez said, is “an excellent hospital with an excellent reputation. It was an honor to have been chosen.” Mendez will be in Boca Raton on July 1, when the agreement between Baptist Health and Boca Raton takes effect, and expects to take over full-time in “mid-July.” Eventually, Mendez said, he and his family will move to Boca Raton.

Mendez said his first priority will be “to learn about the operation of the hospital—what makes it tick.” He does not plan to bring any of his South Miami staff. “Jerry has a solid team.” His meetings with Boca Regional administrators were “very positive.”

Another immediate priority will be to examine “what we’ll be doing in the Palm Beach market.” Baptist Health already owns Bethesda Hospital East in Boynton Beach and Bethesda West. Most of Boca Regional’s patients, however, are on Medicare, while Bethesda East is Medicaid-dependent.

For-profit Tenet Healthcare owns West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center. Mendez believes that Boca Regional’s primary service area includes not just southern Palm Beach County but also northern Broward.

As the new financial commitment shows, Baptist Health will involve itself in the operations of Boca Regional, which since its founding has been independent. Boca Regional began looking for a partner two years ago because of all the consolidation in health care and because board members believed that the hospital had bargaining leverage.

Baptist Health, whose facilities are concentrated in Miami-Dade County, had been looking to Palm Beach. Boca Regional, Mendez said, “was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

Both are not-for-profit organizations. Mendez also said Boca Regional “fits our cultural values—compassionate care and putting the interest of the patient first.” He acknowledged that such a philosophy “can seem like a cliche,” but noted that he had worked for companies “that aren’t like that.”

One new challenge for Mendez and all health care executives in Florida is the repeal of the certificate of need system that also takes effect on July 1. Entities wishing to build, say, a surgery center, no longer will need state approval.

The legislation was a priority of House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, who claims that such deregulation will drive down health care costs. In fact, the research is inconclusive. Still, Mendez said, “We need to be prepared.”

Mendez cited the many “centers of excellence” Boca Regional has added in recent years, such as the Marcus Neuroscience Institute. Fedele called it “a truly unique hospital.” Said Mendez, “We just want to keep building.”

And looking back

Terry and Jerry Fedele

To make his case about Boca Regional’s singularity, Fedele traces the arc of his nearly 11 years as CEO, which began with a debt downgrade and what then was called Boca Raton Community Hospital bleeding money after a bad bet on a move to Florida Atlantic University. The Great Recession had begun.

Since then, the hospital has added the Sandler Pavilion, centers for emergency medicine and robotic surgery, the Marcus Institute, the Christine Lynn Women’s Health and Wellness Institute and the Gloria Drummond Physical Rehabilitation Institute, named for one of the hospital’s founders. Boca Regional runs a surplus. Its bond rating is A-.

In an email, Fedele said, “There is not another 400-bed, stand-alone hospital in the U.S. that over a decade recovered from a $120 million loss, redefined and successfully executed its strategy to become the leading academic tertiary regional referral medical center in its market, and acted from a position of strength to seek a larger partner to commit substantial resources and capital to continue the strategy for decades to come, as well as totally rebuild the inpatient enterprise.

I couldn’t have done it without an exceptional management team, great employees and medical staff and a community of volunteers and philanthropists that are second to none.”

Boca votes to keeps its trash

(Photo by Gary Chan)

Boca Raton will not privatize residential garbage pickup.

Now what?

The city will need to buy many new trucks, since the current vehicles break down constantly. The city will need space to house those trucks—space that it doesn’t have at the existing facility. The city will have to raise salaries, since Boca Raton pays less than private companies for a dangerous job. The sanitation department is down 10 garbage collectors. The city will have to start on all this without a permanent director of municipal services. A spokeswoman said the city is “in the process” of filling the position.

Last week, however, sentiment won out. Longtime employees said they wanted to stay with the city rather than earn more working for Waste Pro, the lone company that answered the city’s request for proposals. Boca Raton privatizes commercial pickup and always planned to keep debris collection, to ensure prompt pickup after hurricanes.

Similarly, council members got what Councilman Andy Thomson called “unsolicited calls” from residents who like their garbage workers. Union representatives opposed privatization. One resident warned of a “foreign company” with “no Boca name” whose trucks would be “roaring through” the city.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke noted correctly that this would have been the city’s “first major outsourcing.” Since one of the council’s goals is to provide “world-class services,” O’Rourke said the proper response was, “Let’s keep Boca, Boca.”

Mayor Scott Singer said, “Don’t mess with success.”

The irony, though, is that Boca Raton doesn’t offer competitive trash collection services, no matter how dedicated the employees might be. Waste Pro and others have cameras on all trucks and newer equipment. Technology tracks the trucks. There are good reasons that roughly 98 percent of cities in Florida, including Delray Beach, use private firms for residential trash pickup.

Waste Pro’s regional vice president offered his own story to tout the company. He began as a collector at age 16. He countered reports that Waste Pro overworks its employees. Just because the company was offering Boca Raton pickup six days a week, he said, doesn’t mean that the company works people six days a week. He touted Waste Pro’s employee benefits.

No matter. The vote against privatization was unanimous and firm. Though some council members said Boca Raton might come back to Waste Pro, the vote almost certainly is irreversible, 

Based on financial projections, Singer said he calculated that the extra cost to keep collection as a city service could cost about $10 more per family per year. “It will be a challenge for us,” he said, “but I believe we will rise to that challenge.”

Details—and costs—to come.

Council OKs Related project

News flash: The Boca Raton City Council approved a development project with no controversy.

It happened last week. The project calls for demolishing an office building and replacing it with 297 residential units at 5400 Broken Sound Blvd. facing Yamato Road. The developer is Miami-based Related Development, part of The Related Group, one of the state’s largest real estate companies. Former planning and zoning board member Glenn Gromann, who said he was a consultant on the project, called it Related Development’s first major project in Boca Raton.

Council members were impressed with the Mizner-style architecture and the mix of designs. Even Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who said, “I’m usually vocal about development,” happily joined the unanimous vote. One reason likely was the inclusion of public art, which is O’Rourke’s favorite issue.

Because the project will be in the Park at Broken Sound, which the city has designated for Planned Mobility Development, it must have measures to reduce traffic and encourage walking. Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said he hopes that the project can do better than the projected 5 percent reduction. It will have a stop on the shuttle that circulates within the Park at Broken Sound.

I will note that the once office-heavy light industrial park has been added residential development that works with the commercial buildings. Yet when property owners in Midtown, which the city also has designed for Planned Mobility Development, sought to include residential, the city council blocked them. The result has been litigation.

City manager on leave 

Deputy City Manager George Brown was at the dais for Boca Raton’s meetings last week. According to a spokeswoman, City Manager Leif Ahnell is on a two-week medical leave.

CRA meets about Costello

Jeff Costello

The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss the resignation of Executive Director Jeff Costello.

In his letter last week to the CRA board, Costello said he would leave after 90 days. At the meeting, the board may decide that Costello should leave sooner and designate Assistant Director Renee Jadusingh as the interim while the board conducts a search for Costello’s successor.

Fire services for Gulfstream

There was controversy when Delray Beach renewed its contract with Highland Beach to provide fire-rescue services. At today’s meeting, however, the city commission likely will approve with no debate a five-year extension to provide those services for Gulfstream. The current contract expires Sept. 30.

Fireworks price tag

Delray Beach residents who wonder about the cost of the Fourth of July fireworks show have an answer.

The display will cost $204,000. That’s from an item on the consent agenda for today’s meeting.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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