Last Updated: 6:33 p.m.
AdventHealth today announced it will build a $100 million, 100-bed hospital with an emergency room on Palm Coast Parkway, just west of the Market Street assisted living facility, bringing hundreds of jobs, remaking the complexion of the west side of Palm Coast Parkway and reasserting itself as the dominant force in health care in Palm Coast and Flagler as challengers appear on the horizon.
The four-story hospital is scheduled to open in late 2022, according to a company release, “and will join AdventHealth Palm Coast to provide additional convenience and comprehensive care, including world-class orthopedics services, to Flagler residents.”
There will still not be a trauma center in Flagler, nor a maternity ward.
AdventHealth has long dominated the hospital care market in Palm Coast and Flagler. But over the past year and a half, FlaglerHealth Plus, formerly Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, has been making small inroads, with speculation that it might be building a hospital at the west end of Palm Coast Parkway. In December the Palm Coast City Council approved the development of an 89-acre medical campus there, potentially anchored by a hospital. By design or not, AdventHealth’s announcement today appears to be a strategic move to protect the network’s turf, and to do so with what would amount to a decisive message within blocks of the 89-acre campus.
It’s also a reflection of the intense competition in the health care industry, and of Flagler-Palm Coast’s rapidly emerging market as fertile ground for health care: the county continues not only to add residents (the population is expected to grow 7 percent in the next five years), but to do so with a disproportionately older set: 31 percent of the population is now 65 and over, up from 26 percent a decade ago.
The new hospital also fits in with the city’s new relationships with the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University, both of which plan campuses in Town Center, both of whose expansions are driven primarily by health care education and what they see as the rise of Palm Coast as a health care hub.
The current hospital is the largest private-sector employer in the county, though its property, assessed at $50 million, is tax exempt. The sale of the properties on Palm Coast Parkway will remove that acreage from the property-tax rolls. In the cost-benefit calculus of operation’s effects on the local economy, its job engine and associated tax revenue makes up for the taxes it does not pay directly. By the time the second hospital is built and staffed, AdventHealth’s employment rolls in the county will be approaching those of the largest employer–the Flagler County School Board, which has about 1,700 employees.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it? It is absolutely incredible news, not only for our community, but in so many ways, creates greater opportunity for more access to health care and more job opportunities in our community,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said. “We really set a course to create this medical hub it starts with education, advancement in health care and career opportunities. We’re seeing all the hard work pay off.”
Holland had conversations with AdventHealth’s David Ottati and Wally De Aquino over a year ago, when she learned that the hospital was looking for sites and seeking her input. (Ottati is president and CEO of AdventHealth Central Florida Division-North, and was formerly the CEO at AdventHealth Palm Coast, when it was known as Florida Hospital Flagler. De Aquino is the chief operating officer at AdventHealth Palm Coast.) AdventHealth in August paid $5 million to acquire four parcels on Palm Coast Parkway, three from Bridgehaven Group, one from Green Coast LLC, though both concerns are registered to the same F-Section Palm Coast resident: Vladislav Krayter.
Holland was sworn to secrecy by a hospital administration increasingly adept at controlling its message. She could now reveal that sites other than the acreage on Palm Coast Parkway had been in consideration. The sites were not selected when city staff deemed them a poor fit. But the location of a 100-bed hospital in the heart of Palm Coast is almost certain to pose a challenge to planners and to future traffic patterns.
The new hospital will be called AdventHealth Palm Coast Parkway and will include an emergency department with full-service imaging, five operating suites, endoscopy services, an outpatient laboratory, heart catherization labs, 20 critical care or ICU patient rooms and 80 for general medical or surgical care. Plans also call for a 30,000-square-foot medical office building also to be constructed on the 10-acre site in the future. (In comparison, AdventHealth Palm Coast sits on 94 acres off of State Road 100.)
The hospital has not submitted its site-plan application yet. It must get site-plan approval from the city. But that’s not expected to be an issue. The acreage is zoned commercial, Palm Coast Parkway has capacity. “It’ll go through the regular review process, planning staff will be involved all the way from the beginning to the end,” Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director, said this evening. He said the city and AdventHealth so far have held “informal technical meetings.” The hospital will be required to do a traffic study. “There’s plenty of capacity on Palm Coast Parkway westbound. They’ll likely have to add turning lanes, which will also add capacity,” he said.
Ottati said that for Palm Coast, it is “the largest investment of this kind since we built the hospital.”
“We look forward to bringing our world-class services closer to home for more people in this growing region,” Ottati was quoted as saying in the release. “Covid-19 has shown us the importance of strong health care infrastructure and, while these plans were in motion before the onset of the pandemic, our recent experience underscores the need for fast access to quality health care.”
AdventHealth Palm Coast had also planned a stand-alone emergency room in the Matanzas Parkway area. Planned in 2018, that is no longer in the works. “With the competition making its way into our community, with different health care systems, it’s my understanding caused Advent to regroup and come back with a strategy that would make sense with what their goals and objectives are,” Holland said. “We know for a while now the current hospital is almost always at capacity with beds filled, and so they wanted to be very specific in adding those additional beds.”
Ron Jimenez, the hospital’s current CEO, spoke to that effect in a video statement posted by the company. “In the past we have been at capacity,” he said of the facility off State Road 100, which opened in 2001, after its former incarnation, Memorial Hospital in Bunnell, had closed. The hospital was stretched at every level, from the ER to its ICU. “So this actually allows us to increase capacity for those services and actually get closer to patients where they live.” (Flagler County government bought the shell of the Memorial Hospital, renovated it and turned it into the Flagler County Sheriff’s Operations Center for a few years before that structure turned into a nightmare of mold and controversy. The Sheriff’s Office evacuated and the county sold the building at a huge loss.)
Ottati said the north end of Flagler is seeing a lot of new construction, making the new hospital ideally positioned to address that need.
“People do better when they’re taken care of close to their home,” Dr. Paul Mucciolo, AdventHealth Palm Coast’s chief of staff, said. “Their family does better, they have their support system intact, and they do better just knowing they don’t have to go far” to a facility.
FlaglerHealth Plus still intends to build within sight of AdventHealth’s new hospital. “It is my understanding that Flagler Hospital is moving forward” on that campus, Holland said. There are no current proposals specific to the plan before city planners.