Lakeland Regional Health’s Kathleen Road Site Doubles in Scope

Workers have already begun building Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center’s satellite site at Kathleen Road and Interstate 4, but now Polk County’s first hospital got a green light from city commissioners Monday to double the square footage to add an emergency room and possibly a nursing home on the 20-acre site.

The panel voted 6-0, with Sarah Roberts McCarley absent, to approve increasing the original 150,000 square feet to 300,000.

Patrick Phillips, LRH’s chief strategy officer and senior vice president for business development, said there is a gap in services for residents on Lakeland’s north side, with the entire metropolitan area seeing explosive growth in the last two decades.

“So, 20 years ago, you know, our health system is not what it is today, and in 20 years, it certainly won’t be the same either,” Phillips said. “This is 20 acres — we want to be prepared to use it for any variety of purposes that will help improve the health of our community. And so that’s why the larger request is to be used as a guidebook for us in the future development efforts.”

Construction is underway on Lakeland Regional Health’s Kathleen Road site

Phase I, which includes a three-story family medicine doctors’ office, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023.

Phillips said the site, situated along the interstate, is perfect to offer emergency care and specialty care.

“We know from all the data content from Plant City over to Lake Wales, we’re the preferred provider and so keep that in staying the preferred provider is to be able to have good access along the corridors,” Phillips said.

Baycare Health, based in St. Petersburg, Orlando Regional Health, and Advent Health, with headquarters in Altamonte Springs, all operate hospitals in Polk County or have plans to do so.

Phillips added that LRH is incorporating graduate medical education, a program that begins next summer.  And while the bulk of that will be done on the main campus, they are hoping to make the Kathleen Road site a hub for family medicine residencies.

The location of the Lakeland Regional Health Kathleen Road site

City Commissioner Philip Walker asked how emergency workers will know to take patients to the Kathleen Road site, rather than the main campus, which has a level II trauma center, providing initial trauma care, regardless of the injury. Physician with a number of subspecialties are promptly available, including nine full-time trauma surgeons for victims of everything from car accidents, to shootings to broken bones to head injuries, according to hospital officials. It is the only designated trauma center for Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.

“While this is LRH’s primary service area, trauma patients are also received from other counties, including Hillsborough and Pasco. Expert trauma care was provided for more than 3,600 injured patients at LRH in 2020,” the medical center’s website states.

“We still vision our main hospital to be the provider of complex care,” Phillips said. “Our chief medical officer will work with county EMS leadership to make sure that there’s good education and workflow, where the right care setting is and the care is appropriate based on the initial triage in the community … Rather than having to travel all the way into the city for complex care and ambulatory care sites, hopefully this will be a hub in the future to divert that traffic from heading into the downtown area.”

A rendering of the project

As he did in last Friday’s agenda study, City Commissioner Bill Read asked about the volume of traffic this medical center will create in the area. Officials said there are plans to connect the medical center to the traffic light at Mall Hill Road, bringing cars into the complex through a road in between the existing 7-11 and the Salvation Army church. And there is talk of possibly extending the road through the Maddox Ranch property to Bella Vista Street. The ranch, established in the 1930s, sits on 80 acres of rural pastureland and maintains a herd of cattle, along with hosting music festivals and primitive camping.

Traffic circulation at the Lakeland Regional Health Kathleen Road site

“In terms of the Mall Hill extension, there is a portion of it that exists today just west of Kathleen Road but really there’s nothing funded, nothing formally planned, other than what’s in our comprehensive plan at this point to go westward toward Bella Vista Street, said Chuck Barmby, the city’s planning and transportation manager. “It would really be dependent upon — because adjacent property is unfortunately owned by a different entity and is in unincorporated Polk County, we would need to coordinate closely with them to be able to provide that connection with Bella Vista … So there’s a lot of work that we need to do depending on the ultimate vision of the property to the west of the hospital site and the CSX railroad. … It could be five years, it could be 20 years.”

Lynne Maddox, owner of the ranch and a longtime editor at The Ledger, said she had not heard of plans to extend a road through her property and declined to comment.

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.