Architect's rendering | Lakeland Regional Health

Lakeland Regional Health plans to build a new free-standing emergency department next year on 2.2 acres along South Florida Avenue in the Christina area.

The 6150 S. Florida Ave. location, the site of a former BB&T Bank, will have direct access to County Road 540A and South Florida Avenue. The new site’s architectural designs, budget and planning process are still in the works.

Hospital officials said the new facility is part of their plans to expand healthcare options in Lakeland while decreasing the gap between the number of physicians and patients in the community.

The hospital purchased the space for $4.09 million from Lemonade, an offshoot of Washington D.C.-based Madison Maquette, which buys surplus retail properties, Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. Lemonade paid $1.23 million for the site.

BB&T bought the property in 2010 for $2.78 million; previously, Citrus & Chemical Bank was situated on the land in an 11,000-square-foot building.

As the first emergency room outside of the hospital’s anchor location on Lakeland Hills Boulevard, the new department is a part of Lakeland Regional Health’s five-year goal to ensure care and emergency access to the community and tackle physician shortages.

“Part of our five-year strategic plan is to ensure our patients have access to convenient and reliable care, including emergency services,” said Danielle Drummond, president and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health. “We feel privileged to grow alongside our community by expanding into South Lakeland to serve our patients and families.”

According to the hospital system, Lakeland Regional Health is currently the second-busiest emergency department in the U.S.

Solutions to bridge the divide between providers and patients have included the hospital’s upcoming build of a $65 million primary and specialty care site, located off I-4 on Kathleen Road, which will play host to Lakeland Regional Health’s first-ever graduate program. The program is set to begin in 2023 and is anticipated to bring nearly 200 more physicians to train in the area.

The hospital system is considering plans for two additional properties, which include 100 acres on U.S. 98 south of County Road 540A, and 5.6 acres of land at 5610 S. Florida Ave. — across from the plaza that’s home to Fancy Q and Honey Baked Ham.

The Harrell Family Center for Behavioral Health, a $46 million unit with 96 beds and eight units, was also opened this year, employing upwards of 275 people.

Other expansions of medical centers in Lakeland have included Orlando Health’s Lakeland Highlands Hospital, which is expected to open in 2026 with 302 inpatient beds. Orlando Health had initially planned for 136 beds but increased to serve local healthcare needs better. Potential plans for the space could include a 20,000-square-foot ambulatory surgical center, 240,000-square-foot medical office space, 20,000-square-foot retail space, and a 150-room hotel.

“With the extraordinary growth we see in Lakeland and Polk County, the need for this hospital is clear and we are so excited that Orlando Health is here to help meet this need,” Jamal Hakim, MD, chief operating officer of Orlando Health, said in a press release.

While some plans are in the works for expansions, others have halted. One of the largest healthcare providers in the US, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, recently pulled back plans to build a three-story, 60-bed, 1-million-square-foot site west of Valleyview Elementary School after surrounding neighbors shared concerns about traffic and noise.

The recommendation for a zoning change that would allow the build was also denied by the Polk County Planning Commission but that decision could have been overturned by the Polk County Commission.

In Lakeland Regional Health’s community needs assessment, the ratio of Polk County residents to physicians is 2,080:1, with one of the most significant barriers in the community being the ratio of providers. Florida’s ratio in 2021 averaged at 1,380:1.

In a study from the Association of American Medical Colleges, aggregated via the Central Florida Development Council, further research suggests that there will be a shortage of physicians in the U.S. over the next 12 years, ranging from 37,800 to 124,000.

Census data from July 2021 shows that there are roughly 115,000 people who live in Lakeland, with metro area population data showing a 1.99 percent increase in 2022, resulting in a population of 358,000 people.

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Kaylee Holland is a writer, hiker, and popcorn enthusiast based in Central Florida. She particularly enjoys combining the art of storytelling and its impact to ignite change within communities and has lived in Lakeland on and off for 10 years. Before coming to LkldNow, Kaylee was a writer and editor with LALtoday. You can reach her at 239.826.0954 or Kayleekholland@gmail.com.

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