March 1, 2018

The Story of Florida Hospital

A Vision of Trust.

Robyn Edgerton

Lydia Parmele wasn’t afraid to dream big. After being trained in the early 1900s as a physician in Battle Creek, Michigan, she set out with her husband, Rufus, and a small group of Adventists to share the unique ideas of whole-person care with the little town of Orlando, Florida. One small problem: all they had was $4.83.

As it turns out, that small amount, coupled with their faith in God, was enough. Soon they grew their treasury to $9,000, purchased a farmhouse, and, by 1908, opened their doors to care for the community.

Bigger Than the Dream

But this story, like all God-led stories, is much bigger than that of one person. It’s bigger, too, than anything those early health pioneers could have ever imagined. More than a century later, the story is still being written. From those humble beginnings Adventist Health System has grown to be one of the largest health-care providers in the United States. And its facilities in Florida, operating under the name Florida Hospital, now stand as one of the nation’s most respected regional health-care systems, a reminder of God’s amazing providence.

From that single farmhouse Florida Hospital has grown to 26 hospital campuses operating under two divisions. It has a total of 5,212 beds, 40,000 employees, six skilled nursing facilities, and 10 home health and hospice agencies. As the psalmist said: “The Lordhas done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).

Good People, God’s Blessings

The success of the Florida Hospital system can be attributed to a number of factors, but three stand out for Adventist Health System president/CEO Terry Shaw.

“When people ask why our Florida Divisions continue to perform so well, I tell them it is the combination of good people, good plans, and God’s rich blessings,” says Shaw. “Adventist Health System is blessed with dedicated leadership who live out our mission statement: Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.”

The modern story of Florida Hospital begins in 1961, when Orlando was a quiet but growing town. The Orlando sanitarium had only 193 beds. Like the medical pioneers before him, Don Welch, a newly recruited hospital administrator, had a dream to reach even more people with Christ’s healing ministry. Seeing the community’s needs, he increased the medical staff, acquired the latest medical equipment, and developed additional services. To provide close-to-home care for people in the expanding outskirts of town, Welch and his team purchased a cow pasture just north of Orlando, where the first satellite facility, Florida Hospital Altamonte, was born.

In 1979 Mardian Blair became administrator and continued expanding services to provide care for the community, including a greatly needed new patient tower and medical office building.

When Tom Werner became administrator in 1984, he focused on fostering relationships with the community, and continued developing the services necessary to meet their health-care needs.

Florida Hospital was respected for its stewardship, which allowed the organization to provide patients with the most advanced medical treatments, and become a regional leader in open heart surgery and cancer care. The focus on caring for the whole person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, was unique.

As Florida Hospital grew in size and reputation, local community hospitals turned to Werner and his team to become part of a larger, more viable system. The first was an East Orlando osteopathic hospital looking to partner with a strong network. Waterman Medical Center in nearby Eustis followed suit.

Similarly, when an East Florida-based health system needed to rebuild a facility, they turned to Florida Hospital and Adventist Health System as a partner. The relentless focus on mission and stewardship created a foundation of success in Volusia County, leading five more facilities to join the Florida Hospital system, extending it into Flagler County.

Florida Hospital partnered with the Walt Disney Company to build Florida Hospital Celebration Health, which would provide health and wellness to the new Osceola County community, and be a destination for health-care innovation and education. This investment tested the organization’s operations and financial discipline to apply the CREATION Health principles (choice, rest, environment, activity, trust in God, interpersonal relationships, outlook, and nutrition). The best way to do this was to build a new facility.

Expanding Influence

In 2000 Winter Park Memorial Hospital joined the system at a time when its owners needed an organization to acquire the assets, invest in, and ensure the viability of the hospital. Around this time Don Jernigan was appointed to lead Florida Hospital.

A good example of the strength of the system’s trust (having good people) and financial stewardship (having good plans) is how Florida Hospital has grown into the Tampa Bay region, forming Adventist Health System’s West Florida Division. Under Lars Houmann’s leadership, Adventist Health System grew its Florida footprint well past the traditional Central Florida marketplace.

About the middle of the decade, University Community Health in Tampa invited Florida Hospital to partner with them to improve operations, viability, and services to the community. Building on that joint venture, Florida Hospital acquired additional facilities in Tampa, Land O Lakes, and Tarpon Springs. Today the West Florida Division of Adventist Health System comprises a growing network of services delivered by nine hospitals, including the facilities in the aforementioned cities, plus the campuses in Sebring, Lake Placid, and Wauchula.

The Central and West Florida divisions of Adventist Health System continue to thrive on good people, good plans, and rich blessings from God while consistently realizing our mission: Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.

Robyn Edgerton is the director of mission strategy for the Adventist Health System.