On the Move

New facilities, reimagined spaces fuel UF Health’s regional ambitions

On the Move

New facilities, reimagined spaces fuel UF Health’s regional ambitions

By Doug Bennett

The Oaks

As a new decade dawns, UF Health is poised to expand its reach into the communities it serves, both near and far.

From an innovative decision to turn former retail space at the Oaks Mall, the region’s premier shopping destination, into a state-of-the-art medical services center to acquiring two hospitals, planning to build a third and laying the foundation of a new research and clinical center in Florida’s fastest-growing community, UF Health is on the move.


In December, UF Health leaders announced plans to acquire two regional hospitals from Central Florida Health, pending final review. Leesburg Regional Medical Center became UF Health Leesburg Hospital, and The Villages® Regional Hospital became UF Health The Villages® Hospital.

The ambitious long-term plans envision construction of a new general acute care hospital in association with The Villages® along with facility improvements and new equipment and technologies at the existing hospitals. A new freestanding emergency room has opened on State Road 44 in Wildwood, just across from Brownwood Paddock Square in The Villages®.

Just days before that major announcement, UF Health made headlines with another bold move: The Villages® and University of Florida Health intend to develop a comprehensive health care campus that will bring education, research and advanced health care and wellness services to The Villages® community.

In January, UF Health expanded its relationship with Halifax Health with the opening of a new, full-service hospital in Volusia County. The 43-bed, six-story medical center will also include a two-story medical annex building, which is expected to open in March.

Closer to its Gainesville base, UF Health has completed work on an innovative project to bring world-class care closer to the community it serves by moving three specialty medical practices to UF Health The Oaks.

UF Health’s continued growth is a key part of its mission to serve the needs of the community and expand the latest health care advances further into the region, said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.

“UF Health has become synonymous with highly regarded, patient-centered care,’’ Nelson said. “In an ever-changing health care landscape, it is a true privilege to build on our role as the region’s premier provider of medical expertise and specialties.”



UF Health The Oaks

The opening of UF Health The Oaks marks a major step toward UF Health’s goal of bringing world-class health care closer to the community it serves.

January saw the opening of UF Health The Oaks. The 139,000-square-foot former Sears store in the Oaks Mall has been transformed into a distinctive, visually inspiring health care destination.

UF Health The Oaks comprises ophthalmology, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat, including allergy) and audiology services provided by UF Health. The 14-month project at the West Newberry Road mall completely reimagined the space with patient-focused features and welcoming, custom-designed artwork.
The mall is an excellent site for several reasons, said Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands.

“The Oaks Mall delivers a location that is ideal for our patients and gives them convenient access to practices with exceptional national reputations. We are proud to be among the growing number of innovative health care systems that are bringing medicine to malls,” Jimenez said.

UF Health The Oaks includes 87 exam rooms, 15 procedure rooms (including laser rooms), eight treatment rooms and 10 sound booths across the three practices, and visitors will have more than 500 parking spaces and easy access to shopping and dining. Patients can also shop for eyeglasses, contact lenses and hearing aids at two stores adjacent to the practices.

Both inside and outside spaces are augmented with thoughtfully curated, nature-themed art that includes murals, stunning photographs and unique mobiles.
“UF Health The Oaks is an exceptional example of how to best serve patients and the community. We now have expert physicians and other vital health resources in a location that is convenient for patients throughout the region,’’ Nelson said.

“As demand for our ophthalmology, otolaryngology and audiology services continues to grow, UF Health is proud to bring its medical expertise, leading-edge technology and caring patient focus to a Gainesville landmark.”

Visitors and patients are surrounded by a host of amenities and aesthetics. A terrazzo floor highlights the concourse connecting the parking area to the medical facilities and mall. Sunlight streams through skylights and custom-made mobiles spin slowly overhead.

From artwork to clinical space, no detail was overlooked. Glass walls separate the concourse from waiting rooms, letting natural light flow in. Lighting throughout the facility was chosen to mimic natural daylight. Ceilings typically reach 10 to 11 feet high and nurses’ stations are filled with glass and LED panels that resemble skylights.

“We wanted to create a different environment for both the staff and patients. We used a lot of glass so that waiting rooms and nurses’ stations feel very open and airy,” said Bradley Pollitt, A.I.A., UF Health Shands vice president of facilities development.

Small but thoughtful changes enhance the patient experience: Examination rooms are grouped in “pods” of six to 12 by medical specialty, giving patients easy access within a large space. Smaller waiting areas abound, meaning patients can stay close to their exam room during procedures such as eye dilation, Pollitt said.

The mall’s location and easy access fills many needs for patients and physicians, said Marvin A. Dewar, M.D., CEO and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians and a senior associate dean of the UF College of Medicine. The ophthalmology and otolaryngology practices draw patients from throughout the state and region, Dewar said. Likewise, physicians from those practices will be able to perform many procedures on-site when a 20,000-square-foot radiology and outpatient surgery center opens later this year.

To optimize the patient experience, architectural design teams that had created similar medical practices elsewhere were consulted, and UF Health physicians provided crucial input. The idea, Dewar said, was to design spaces that prevent backlogs and are seamless for patients and staff. That led to small but crucial design elements: Eye treatments are highly specialized, so patients and physicians are now grouped together based on needs.

The added space also provides other opportunities, Dewar said. Many ear, nose and throat patients also need hearing tests, and the location provides space to integrate those services. Likewise, UF Health patients — even those who aren’t ophthalmology or otolaryngology patients — will now have a convenient place to have blood drawn for lab tests.

“It’s a great location for all of that,” Dewar said.

It also puts accomplished, dedicated physicians, innovative medicine and additional clinical space close to patients’ homes and jobs. The location nicely complements UF Health’s other two main locations in Gainesville — the UF Health campus on Southwest Archer Road and the multispecialty practice sites at Springhill, Dewar said.

The new otolaryngology practice brings together all practitioners for the cochlear implant program, which uses an electrical stimulation to help patients with significant hearing loss who cannot benefit from hearing aids. Its radiology and lab services offer a one-stop destination for ear, nose and throat care. The ear, nose and throat practice has 21 examination rooms and seven procedure rooms. In audiology, there are 13 treatment rooms and 11 booths for hearing tests.

In ophthalmology, UF Health has the only practice in the region that covers every subspecialty, including corneal transplants, pediatric ophthalmology, refractive surgery and low-vision services. It also is the only practice in the region to perform novel procedures such as “bionic eye” retinal implants, artificial corneas and miniature telescopes to improve vision loss caused by macular degeneration. The practice has 66 examination rooms and four procedure rooms.

Innovation at UF Health The Oaks goes far beyond medicine and patient care. The space is heated and cooled with variable refrigerant flow, a technology that Pollitt said should reduce energy consumption by more than half compared with traditional methods.

The mall site allows the three practices to expand while also benefiting other UF Health practices. About 110 employees in the UF Health ophthalmology and ear nose and throat practices have moved to the new space, which is leased for 20 years, with four additional five-year options. Space at the UF Health Medical Plaza on Southwest Archer Road formerly occupied by ophthalmology will be used to expand other medical services.

The move also puts UF Health at the forefront of a growing movement to bring medical services to malls. In 2017, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute struck a long-term deal to redevelop a former mall near Boston. Vanderbilt Health has transformed part of a once-struggling mall into a multiclinic health and wellness destination near its Nashville, Tennessee campus. Earlier this year, the Mall of America announced a collaboration with University of Minnesota physicians to bring a walk-in clinic with exam rooms, radiology services and a pharmacy to the site.

The UF Health project began attracting attention even before it opened: Pollitt, the facilities chief, said he fielded about 10 calls from other companies and institutions that were interested in learning more about the transformative work.


data-gallery TVRH Aerial Image 1UF Health Leesburg Hospital and UF Health The Villages Hospital have joined the UF Health family. The acquisition builds on a strategic affiliation that has connected local residents to leading-edge stroke care and other health care services for several years.

The move strengthens and improves the availability of high-quality, efficient, affordable health care for Lake, Sumter and Marion counties through the 660-bed regional system, and preserves and enhances the hospitals’ focus on other important missions of research, medical education and charity care. Over time, long-term plans for facility improvements and new equipment and technologies will be considered, including construction of a new general acute care hospital in association with The Villages®.

data-gallery LRMC Aerial Image 2“UF Health and Central Florida Health have had a complementary, collegial relationship that has already begun to expand the health care services available to patients in the area,’’ Nelson said. “Together, we will concentrate on leveraging each other’s strengths as we aim to serve the community by providing the best possible patient care — creating a smoother and more coordinated patient experience — and training the next generation of health care providers.”

UF Health and Central Florida Health have been working to develop leading-edge patient care programs and improve access to specialty services, advanced technology and clinical studies for area residents. The focus has included creating primary care physician training opportunities to meet the increasing demand for primary care physicians as the region’s population quickly grows.

UF Health physicians already work with Central Florida Health to provide comprehensive stroke care and telestroke services to their patients when needed, offering timely access to the latest technology and the most advanced treatments available. They also provide around-the-clock access to consults with a vascular neurologist regarding treatment plans and decisions related to administration of the clot-busting drug tPA for patients who remain in the local area. UF Health also provides educational opportunities, including continuing medical education about the latest in stroke care.

“UF Health is at the forefront of a variety of clinical and research advances, and the University of Florida ranks among the top public universities in the country. We’re looking forward to being able to offer additional depth and new alternatives for local residents requiring specialized care in areas where there is a growing community need, while also ensuring they are able to easily obtain primary care,” said Don Henderson, CEO of Central Florida Health.

The demand for primary care physicians is increasing as the region’s population quickly grows, and doctors tend to establish their practices close to where they complete their training. Expanding the physician workforce also provides added economic benefits to the local community and throughout the state.

Henderson added that local physicians who have an interest in research and training programs will be able to take advantage of more options, including continuing medical education opportunities. In addition, UF Health is seeking to grow its research enterprise to further benefit patients and move medicine forward, and to serve an additional mission of training the next generation of health care providers through the development of primary care physician training programs and other programs for health professionals.



Nursing EHR

College of Nursing researchers use UF Health nurses’ observation notes to predict and prevent older adult patient falls.

The Villages® and UF Health plan to develop a comprehensive health care campus offering a full portfolio of education, research and advanced health care and wellness services for The Villages®, including a new general acute care hospital.

The Villages® seeks to become America’s “healthiest hometown,” and the broad vision will include a variety of UF Health medical practices as well as teaching and research alliances with various UF colleges, including Dentistry, Health and Human Performance, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Health Professions, and Veterinary Medicine, along with associated centers and institutes. UF/IFAS extension programming focused on food and nutrition also will be a highlight.

The University of Florida will provide the breadth of knowledge, talented faculty and resources to ensure that healthy living is integrated into the very fabric of the community through health, education and wellness programs; UF Health will ensure a forward-looking approach to prevention, early detection and health promotion.

“This alliance is a game-changer as we work together to expand high-quality, compassionate, affordable health care that offers the best possible outcomes,” Nelson said. “Collectively, we share big, bold plans that will bring the advantages of an academic health center across all its missions to the area.”

Residents will benefit from top-notch doctors and other health experts while having increased access to the latest medical advances and clinical trials when they need them.

POST_JanFeb_Cover_Wildwood ER opening“This expansion also provides UF Health with long-needed additional clinical locations to support the training of the next generation of students, medical residents and fellows who will care for residents of Florida, now the third-most-populated state in the nation,” Nelson said.

Eventually, the health campus may also include residential facilities for faculty, graduate trainees and health students as well as space for innovative research that develops products and services for older adults.

Officials say they aim to forge a national model for expanding life expectancy through a healthy, active, continuous learning approach to living. Plans will integrate the educational, research and clinical resources of Florida’s leading university with the unique resources of the largest older adult community in the country.

“We are delighted to be working with the University of Florida to develop a one-of-a-kind medical campus featuring a new state-of-the-art UF Health Hospital strategically located here in The Villages,®” said Mark Morse, CEO of The Villages®.


In a related matter, officials in January cut the ribbon on the UF Health The Villages® Hospital Freestanding E.R., bringing convenient access to high-quality health care in Wildwood and surrounding communities.

The modern, 25,000-square-foot facility on State Road 44 in Sumter County is open 24/7 and features a full complement of staff, including physicians, nurses and patient care technicians. It is equipped with 16 beds, two of which are situated inside state-of-the-art trauma bays. To allow for future expansion, the facility contains additional space that eventually will accommodate a total of 24 beds.

The UF Health The Villages® Freestanding E.R. will feature laboratory, pharmacy and respiratory therapy services as well as the latest diagnostic imaging technologies.


Halifax HealthUF Health and Halifax Health in January celebrated the opening of the Halifax Health|UF Health – Medical Center of Deltona, a full-service hospital that brings world-class health care to Volusia County and the surrounding region.

Adjacent to Interstate 4 at State Road 472 and northeast of Orlando, the 43-bed, six-story medical center includes four operating rooms, 13 intensive care rooms and 30 medical-surgical rooms in 280,000 square feet of space. The hospital opened on Feb. 4, and a two-story medical annex building is expected to open in March. In its first year, it will have 211 full-time equivalent employees for 11 specialties ranging from anesthesia and cardiology to emergency care and general surgery, and an overall economic impact of $133 million at completion.

Management, operations, staffing and quality will be overseen by a team appointed by UF Health and Halifax Health, continuing a tight working relationship the two health systems have enjoyed for several years. They already collaborate on heart and vascular surgery, pediatric care, neurosurgery and kidney transplantation, and UF Health surgeons and other physicians are based in Daytona Beach.

“What we’ve learned from each other is that we have a lot of compatibilities,” said Jimenez. “We aspire to great patient care. We are both trauma centers. We view ourselves as being regionally supportive of our neighborhoods and communities. And then we hit the one compatibility that transcends everything else, which is that we have this unending commitment to quality and patient safety. So, we’re really excited about collaborating further.”

Halifax Health leaders said the collaboration will provide patients in Volusia and surrounding communities with greater access to care, including more specialty services, advanced technology and increased access to clinical trials, among numerous benefits.

“As the medical landscape changes, it is becoming more important to partner with like organizations to provide a greater depth of critically needed health care services,” said Jeff Feasel, president and CEO of Halifax Health. “This partnership speaks to the need for collaboration to reduce health care costs while continuing to elevate the quality care the two organizations provide.”


The Oaks Mall

The Oaks Mall

Amid the new technology and clinical spaces, patients and visitors to UF Health The Oaks will also find an abundance of art.

It starts outside, where patients are greeted by a towering glass panel mural — the first of its kind at a UF Health facility — that features 11 large, highly detailed images of native plants, animals and natural features.

Inside, large, hand-shaped mobiles — meant to symbolize the healing hands of health care workers — turn slowly above the main concourse. Within the practices, hundreds of photographs taken by UF Health employees line the walls, and pieces by professional artists enrich waiting rooms.

“The arts are a part of everything we do at UF Health and we wanted them here at The Oaks to be special,’’ said Tina Mullen, M.F.A., director of the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program.

UF Health The Oaks

UF Health The Oaks

Designing the aesthetics for such a large, repurposed space was unprecedented for UF Health. Ultimately, the art includes literal and symbolic representations of the practices’ missions and the region’s natural features.

“Nature is the undercurrent of many decisions that are made in health care,’’ Mullen said. “We also know that our patients are deeply embedded in the natural experiences of North Central Florida. We wanted the space to reflect that.”

A focal point in the concourse is a photograph of an oak tree on Kanapaha Prairie by Gainesville-based conservation photographer Mac Stone. The image — 15 feet long and 8 feet high — is printed on multidepth aluminum panels and augmented with museum-quality lighting.

“It has a luminosity to it that will make it like a beacon,” said Mullen.