By Sallie James
A little more than a year after Boca Raton Regional Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, the medical facility once known as the “Miracle on Meadows Road” has announced it will enter discussions to merge with health care giant Baptist Health South Florida.
The hospital said in a statement that the decision culminates an initiative that began more than a year ago to elevate the hospital’s position as an academic referral center in South Florida. Baptist is headquartered in Coral Gables.
“We are pleased with the board’s decision to move forward with Baptist,” said Jerry Fedele, president and CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “While this was a most difficult choice, one that was between two of the finest health care providers in the country, our trustees believe Baptist is the best fit for Boca Regional.”
The proposed merger is a huge marker of change for a community-minded hospital born out of tragedy in 1967. The horrific poisoning deaths of two young children and the absence of a local medical center became the impetus for its construction. The town had about 10,000 residents and a group of volunteers with a mission.
“The goal always is to be better,” said Joan Wargo, 88, who has logged more than 35,000 volunteer hours there over the past 50 years. “We have an expansion planned we have been working on for over a year. We are planning on building a new tower. I just hope people will understand … how much more progressive it’s going to be for the residents of Boca Raton. I think it’s great.
“I would not say it’s an end of an era. I say it’s the beginning of another one. We are not ending Boca Raton Regional Hospital by any means.”
In a May 2017 interview, Fedele spoke of the hospital’s close link to the community and its residents.
“We are really the sweet spot of medicine. We are big enough to provide the best care but small enough to still have that community atmosphere,” Fedele told The Coastal Star.
Today, this hospital has grown into a regional treatment complex with about 2,800 employees, 1,200 volunteers and approximately 800 doctors on staff. The Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League has provided more than $31 million to the hospital since the League’s formation in 1962.
The proposed merger would place the 400-bed Boca Raton Regional Hospital in partnership with the neighboring 400-bed Bethesda Hospital East in Boynton Beach — once a rival of sorts. Bethesda Hospital, with medical centers in east and west Boynton Beach, merged with Baptist over a 24-month period after an agreement was signed in 2015.
Fedele, who had planned to retire in 2018, has agreed to stay on through August 2019 to assist with the transition. Fedele has served as CEO of Boca Regional for the past 10 years.
Baptist Health South Florida said in a statement that “Boca Raton Regional Hospital aligns strategically with our organization and our plans to improve access to quality health care in our region. We share not-for-profit values of exceptional quality and service for our patients, high physician and employee engagement and a commitment to the communities we serve. We look forward to continuing to work with Boca Raton Regional Hospital through this process.”
In May, Boca Regional officials, looking to form a partnership, narrowed down talks to two potential partners, Miami-based Baptist Health and Cleveland Clinic.
The hospital is growing, and a $260 million program will transform the main building and add a parking garage and power plants.
Wargo can’t wait to see the results. “I am anxious to get to work,” she said. “Let’s go!”
Officials hope to complete the merger by the end of the year.