UCF unveils new high-tech Lake Nona hospital

Kate Santich and Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel
·4 min read

The UCF College of Medicine and for-profit hospital chain HCA introduced their new “child” Tuesday — a 64-bed, $175-million high-tech hospital in Lake Nona with beds that can speak to patients in any of six languages and tracking devices that can locate both staff and equipment instantly.

The facility, the UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, is set to open March 1.

“To me, it will feel like the long-awaited birth of a completely and totally wanted child who you know is going to grow up to be something extraordinary,” said Dr. Deborah German, the university’s vice president for health affairs and the founding dean of the UCF College of Medicine. “When I came to [UCF], I knew that in order for us to be a top tier medical school, we needed an academic teaching hospital.”

That was December 2006. The journey since has been a long building period with some bumps along the way, including the coronavirus pandemic that pushed back the opening by at least two months.

UCF will have about 20 percent ownership of the joint venture with HCA Healthcare’s North Florida Division and 50 percent of its governance. The 205,000-square-foot hospital is built on 25 acres next to the medical school that the university is leasing to HCA, giving it room to expand to 80 beds within the current walls and eventually to offer 500 beds with more construction.

“We don’t really want it to feel like a hospital,” said the facility’s CEO, Wendy Brandon. “When you walk in, we want it to have more of a hospitality feel — very inviting and warm and calming and clean. And we wanted a lot of natural light, a beautiful environment for patients and visitors.”

Lake Nona is considered one of the fastest growing regions in Central Florida, she noted. Officials project the hospital will serve more than 17,000 patients in its first year.

It will provide a 24-hour emergency department and more than 250 physicians on the hospital’s medical staff, including specialists in primary care, cardiology, colorectal surgery, general surgery, gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery, pulmonology, nephrology, OB/GYN, gynecologic oncology, infectious disease, nephrology, neurohealth sciences, spine and urology.

The facility also includes such “smart” features as beds that weigh patients, warn them not to get out of bed in their preferred language, and gently shift their weight to prevent pressure sores. And electronic displays will identify hospital staff by name and position when they enter patients’ rooms.

All physicians will have some type of College of Medicine faculty affiliation, German said, and she estimated that one-fourth to a third of the medical school’s 120 students will spend time there as part of their fourth year.

“We will be teaching. We will be doing research. It’s part of our core mission and we will be growing,” German said.

It is still unclear, though, how many UCF medical school graduates will choose to spend their residencies there.

Many, though not all, medical schools have associated hospitals that provide places for faculty to practice and for students to learn. Others rely on local health care systems and private practices to meet those needs.

But members of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, made it clear they did not view UCF’s facility as a “teaching hospital” when they approved the proposal in 2017 because, at least initially, it will not offer the range of services members of the public expect from academic institutions nor the full range of opportunities for medical school graduates.

German said Tuesday she still envisions the hospital as becoming a teaching hospital in the way that state leaders describe one.

UCF’s decision to partner with HCA over Central Florida-based non-profit hospitals AdventHealth and Orlando Health, which also submitted proposals, was controversial. After UCF trustees voted to build the hospital with HCA, the nonprofit hospitals barred UCF medical students from spending part of their third-year clinical rotations in their facilities, a change students said limited their opportunities.

Brandon said the hospital’s intention is to be profitable, though she declined to discuss the first-year operating revenue, projected two years ago to be $71 million.

The hospital will create an estimated 350 new jobs, including nurses, other medical professionals and support positions. It’s expected to generate $1.4 million a year in local and state taxes and provide $13.8 million a year in charity care, uninsured discounts and other uncompensated care.

ksantich@orlandosentinel.com, anmartin@orlandosentinel.com