Calling President Lincoln

The new CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital has adopted both blessings and challenges

When Jerry Fedele took over the reins of Boca Raton Regional Hospital, in 2008, the community medical center was treating its own financial hemorrhage. The Great Recession had begun, and the institution had found itself $120 million in the red. Under Fedele’s leadership, BRRH not only recovered its losses but expanded its services, adding specialty centers to its campus. When he retired in the summer of 2019, the hospital was running a surplus, with an A-bond rating.

So for Lincoln Mendez, who succeeded Fedele as CEO in July, the hospital is in a more stable place than it was during the existential tumult of the late 2000s. But there were still wounds to triage.

Mendez’s tenure coincided with the hospital’s historic merger with Baptist Health, which operates 13 medical centers in Florida, including Bethesda East and West hospitals in Boynton Beach. But he also inherited a crisis: the expiration of the hospital’s contract with UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer, which threw 17,500 patients off its services effective July 1. At the time of this writing, United and BRRH remained at loggerheads, and reinstating these patients was a top priority for the new CEO.

“Boca Regional had had some dialogue with United, and apparently it was felt that the rates weren’t enough to cover the expenses,” says Mendez. “This is a normal process hospitals go through. The unfortunate thing was it expired the day before the merger. But it happened. I’ve gotten some calls, and the community is concerned. I completely understand, and on a personal level, I’m on UnitedHealthcare. I’m interested in this hospital getting back on the plan. Now we’re starting with a clean slate, and working with United [to reach an agreement.]”

When and if this problem is resolved, Mendez’s decades-long experience in hospital management and his even-keeled disposition will likely have gone a long way toward fixing it. An affable Cuban-American family man with three children and a wife named America, the 63-year-old Mendez has managed hospitals in Florida his entire career, including 14 years at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables and, most recently, nearly a decade at South Miami Hospital, where he helped grow its technology, facilities and programming.

“Even though I’d been working in Miami for 30 years now, my family and I had always thought our next stop was going to be up in Palm Beach County,” he says. “We’ve always lived in Broward County. When this opportunity came up, I was very excited about it, because it was a brand-new facility to be included in the Baptist Health family.”

The added resources of Baptist Health means BRRH will be able to expand on the facility master plan proposed prior to the merger. “The hospital was built in 1967, so there are areas that need attention,” Mendez says. Plans are underway for the new, nine-story Drummond Patient Tower and a 972-space parking garage; the latter is expected to be complete by early January.

Mendez also expects Boca Regional to follow Miami-Dade’s lead in growing its urgent-care and imaging centers, following industry trend lines toward increased outpatient and ambulatory services. “With Boca Regional joining the family, you’re going to see a proliferation of outpatient facilities with the Baptist Health name on it,” he says.

Whatever the future holds for Boca Regional, Mendez will be ever-cognizant of the wisdom Fedele dispersed during the leadership transition. “He kept stressing the fact that this hospital is a community-based hospital,” Mendez says. “Knowing the history of how this hospital came about, through a tragic situation, and what’s grown into the Miracle on Meadows Road, that’s very important. … It’s a testament to what this hospital means to the community.”

This story is from our November/December 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.