Alabama-based Encompass Health has announced plans to build a 50-bed rehabilitation hospital in Lakeland, but the company is not yet ready to disclose the location.

The address of the free-standing, inpatient rehabilitation facility will be released after the property purchase is complete, according to Hillary Carneal, associate director of media relations and marketing events for Encompass, which is based in Birmingham, Ala.

“At this point, our estimate is that the hospital will begin serving patients the later part of 2022,” said Linda Wilder, president of the company’s southeast region.

Encompass, which was known as HealthSouth until 2018, is a private, for-profit company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange under EHC. It currently operates 136 rehabilitation hospitals in the United States and Puerto Rico, including 12 in Florida and is rapidly expanding its footprint in Florida.

Rendering: planned Lakeland hospital

In the past month, Encompass also has announced plans to build a 50-bed rehabilitation hospital in Clermont and a 40-bed rehabilitation hospital in St. Augustine. It has a 50-bed hospital under construction in north Tampa at the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Van Dyke Road and also has announced plans for a 40-bed hospital in Pensacola.

Rehabilitation hospitals provide intensive therapy to more medically complex patients than provided at nursing homes, and the two types of facilities require different licenses.

Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center’s Bannasch Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation Medicine provides similar services in a 32-bed in-hospital facility.

In a news release, Ecompass Health said that the planned Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Lakeland would complement local acute-care services and would “care for patients recovering from debilitating illnesses and injuries including strokes and other neurological disorders, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputations and complex orthopedic conditions.”

The company said it would provide physical, occupational and speech therapies, aimed at restoring functional ability and quality of life, along with round-the-clock care by registered nurses. The medical staff would include physicians experienced in physical medicine, rehabilitation, internal medicine, cardiology, infectious disease and nephrology, the news release said.

Asked about the possible impact another intensive rehabilitation facility would have on the Lakeland community, Lakeland Regional Health’s chief rehabilitation officer, Jill Haladay, responded in an email that its Bannasch Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation Medicine is a “state-of-the-art 32-bed unit, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities” and “is designed to maximize patient safety while treating neurologically and physically impaired patients. Our specially trained clinicians work closely with Polk County’s only Level II Trauma Center and Comprehensive Stroke Center teams to coordinate care.”

Underlying issues

The Florida Legislature opened the way in 2019 for hospitals to expand into the state when it removed long-standing certificate-of-need requirements, which had mandated that hospitals justify the need for new facilities, additional beds and certain equipment and services. Encompass’ scheduled openings for its new rehabilitation hospitals fall after the July 1, 2021, date that the Legislature set to drop the certificate-of-need requirement.

Lakeland Regional Health, along with other not-for-profit health systems in the state, had lobbied against the change, saying it would further hurt their bottom lines as for-profit hospital chains would cherry-pick lucrative procedures with high rates of reimbursement from insurers, such as orthopedic services, and ignore expensive programs with low reimbursement, such as emergency mental health care.

For decades, Lakeland Regional Health has operated the city-owned hospital, paying an annual fee under a lease agreement. The lease payment (set at $14.4 million annually through 2024) proceeds go into the city’s general fund to help pay for capital improvements at parks, cemeteries, fire stations and the police station. The lease payment had been scheduled to go up 2.75 percent annually, but last year hospital officials convinced the City Commission to freeze the payments for five years, saying the hospital’s dropping profit margins would impact the services it could provide to low-income and indigent patients.

While Haladay’s comments on Monday did not address a question about the expected impact on Lakeland Regional’s revenue after Encompass opens its planned rehabilitation hospital, in a July 29 article, LkldNow updated readers about the hospital’s financial standing.

Lance Green, Lakeland Regional’s chief financial officer, said that revenues had dropped $6.3 million in the last financial quarter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state had halted all elective surgeries and outpatient procedures in late March and April and for several months many patients avoided going to the emergency department.

As a result of the revenue loss, Lakeland Regional has delayed the start of construction on a planned in-patient and outpatient behavioral health facility, Green said.


There are limited resources to judge what impact an additional intensive rehabilitation facility will have on the quality of care in the Lakeland community. Neither Hospital Compare, compiled by the national Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, nor Leapfrog, a non-profit agency, rates inpatient rehabilitation services.

Only 12 hospitals nationwide qualified for U.S. News & World Report’s ranking as a top rehabilitation hospital – none of them in Florida.

Because there is limited publicly available data about specialty hospitals, U.S. News & World Report asks specialists to list five hospitals they consider provide exceptional care for complex cases. Most specialty hospitals receive few or no recommendations and only those that receive a recommendation of at least 1 percent of the participating specialists are ranked.

LkldNow was able to identify 95 of Encompass’ 136 rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, and none received the required 1 percent of specialist recommendations to merit being ranked.

Lakeland Regional Health’s Bannasch Center was not ranked independently from the acute-care hospital, which was ranked 15th in the state for acute care but did not receive a national ranking.

Although the U.S. News & World Report did not rank many rehabilitation hospitals, its data notes which rehabilitation hospitals provide the following: assistive technology center, electrodiagnostic services, prosthetic and orthopedic services, robot-assisted walking therapy and physical rehabilitation outpatient services

Four of Encompass Healths’ s Florida hospitals have an assistive technology center and four provide robot-assisted walking therapy. One provides electrodiagnositic services; one, prosthetic and orthopedic service; and one, outpatient rehabilitation therapy. Six of the dozen Encompass rehab hospitals in Florida provide none of those services, according to the U.S. News & World Report analysis.

Which, if any, of those five services would be available at the Lakeland facility has not been determined, Wilder said.

All of Encompass’ existing hospitals in Florida are larger than the four in development, which are 40- to 50-bed facilities. Among the existing Encompass hospitals, four have 54-60 beds; five have 70-80 beds; two have 90-100 beds and one has 126 beds.

Wilder said Encompass settled on a 50-bed facility in Lakeland based on its experience in the national market.

“We use this experience and feedback from our care delivery teams in the design of our physical plant, the selection of equipment/technologies, the development and continuous refinement of our care delivery protocols and processes sharing best practices from our teams throughout the state and nation to design the delivery of care for our new hospitals,” she said.

The design plan and site will allow for future expansion at the Lakeland facility, she said. Currently, it is going through local, county and state permitting and approval processes, she said.

“Lakeland is a community we identified as needing these additional services quite a while ago. We are very glad to now have the opportunity to execute on this long-term plan and serve the residents and support the discharge plans of the other hospitals in the area through this new, state-of-the-art hospital,” Wilder said.

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