Orlando Health won approval from the City Commission on Tuesday to build a health-care campus with hospital on a 79.6-acre tract at the southeastern corner of Lakeland Highlands Road and the Polk Parkway.

The 20- to 25-year-project will start with a 30,000-square-foot, free-standing emergency department with helipad and some medical offices. To ensure the property is not left vacant, Orlando Health agreed to present site plans within 18 months and apply for the first building permits to be issued within three years. About 200 jobs would be created with the opening of the emergency department, Orlando Health says.

The second phase would include a 120-bed hospital, which would add another 400 jobs. Eventually, the hospital could be expanded up to 360 beds – which is less than half the size of the only hospital currently serving Lakeland, the 864-bed Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

At build-out, expected to happen sometime between 2040 and 2045, Orlando Health projects its Lakeland Health and Wellness Campus will include:

  • The hospital covering 730,000-square-feet
  • The free-standing emergency department with helipad
  • A 20,000-square-foot ambulatory surgical center
  • 240,000 square feet of medical office space
  • 20,000 square feet of retail space
  •  A 150-bed hotel

Aaron Bottenhorn, Orlando Health director of asset strategy, said that at build-out some 1,800 jobs will have been created by the health-care portion of the project, and the retail and hotel would bring in some additional jobs.

City of Lakeland officials and Orlando Health representatives have been discussing the project for months. The main new information that came out during Tuesday’s City Commission meeting were details in an economic impact statement developed by Orlando Health.

Bottenhorn said operations would be expected to have a direct and indirect economic impact of $1.36 billion a year when averaged over 27 years.

“When multiplied over 27 years, that would be a much bigger number,” he said.

The site, currently undeveloped, sits just north of the Lakeland Highlands Road entrance to Sanlan Ranch RV & Golf Resort. Orlando Health plans to purchase the property from Sanlan owners Ed and Mary Ann Holloway.

The economic impact of the construction and capital improvements were projected in four phases of four to five years in each phase, Bottenhorn said. The impact is estimated at $4.5 billion for each of the five-year periods, he said.

The city had ironed out numerous issues with Orlando Health before Tuesday’s meeting, which was held via video-conferencing. No one from the general public had any phone-in comments or questions during four public hearings covering annexation, future land use, zoning designation and a development agreement about Orlando Health’s role in mitigating traffic issues.

Commissioners unanimously approved the annexation and future land use designation of city office center. Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley cast the only no vote on the zoning, which sets up a planned unit development on five tracts to be developed in stages, and she cast the only no vote to the development agreement on traffic mitigation.

McCarley later explained that she does not doubt that Orlando Health is professional and would be a good neighbor and a good partner but she hesitated to approve the project because of concerns about providing indigent health care. “We are a very poor area,” McCarley said. “We have a lot of needs for health care for indigent people who do not have access.”

In operating not-for-profit hospitals, both Orlando Health and Lakeland Regional must reinvest profits into community health care.

However, McCarley said she is concerned that Orlando Health may provide mostly high-revenue services that may not meet the needs of the indigent population, shifting more burden onto Lakeland Regional.

Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center is city-owned and is contractually operated by the nonprofit Lakeland Regional Health. The health system makes lease payments to the city, which amount to about $14.5 million a year going into the city’s general fund.

“As a Polk County native, I worry about corporations from the metro areas foraging and looking at Polk as a stepping stone for their causes,” McCarley said. “I worry that at we are not treated as a stepchild to a corporation out of the metro areas (Orlando and Tampa).” She added that she hopes charity care will be based on Lakeland-area needs and not on regional needs.

Orlando Health owns nine hospitals (including Orlando Regional Medical Center, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies near downtown Orlando), five freestanding emergency departments, five cancer centers and 11 medical buildings.

In response to questions from Mayor Bill Mutz, Bottenhorn said that Orlando Health’s Community Benefit Report from last year lists $89 million in charity care across its 1,400-bed hospital system.

By comparison, Lakeland Regional’s Community Benefit Report for 2018-2019 lists $27.5 million in charity care across its 849 beds.

The first buildings on the site would be a free-standing emergency room and medical office building.

As part of the development agreement, before Orlando Health opens the free-standing emergency department, Orlando Health must pay to extend the northbound exit ramp from Lakeland Highlands Road onto the Polk Parkway and must install a traffic signal at the intersection of Lakeland Highlands Road and Deefield Drive/Winter Lake Extension Road.

The agreement also stipulates that at the time Orlando Health’s hospital project is generating a specified level of traffic, it will build an onsite transit superstop, provide up to $500,000 for Lakeland Area Mass Transit to buy a bus, and provide $150,000 a year for five years to operate the bus service to and from the campus.

Mayor Mutz acknowledged there is a tension about the project considering Lakeland Regional Health’s long commitment to the community. And Mutz admitted to having a bias in having served on Lakeland Regional Health’s board of directors.

However, Mutz cited Bottenhorn’s presentation showing that by 2045, Polk County will need 615 more hospital beds based on census projections that the population will grow from the current 698,000 to 932,200 people.

“We have greater needs to grow, even more than we can do with Lakeland Regional alone,” Mutz said.

“We are talking about 2040 to 2045. This is not precipitous and it is not disloyal. We will have the health care needs by then that need to be augmented.”

Orlando Health presentation

Video: Orlando Health commission discussion

City Commission Meeting 2020.09.08 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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