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Editorials

USF goes back to Lakeland

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:52 PM

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The University of South Florida's partnership with Lakeland Regional Medical Center is further evidence of the school's emergence as a national leader in research and innovation.

The agreement should enhance the medical school's prestige and improve Central Florida health care.

The achievement also underscores the foolishness of the state Legislature, which relentlessly attacked USF last session at the behest of powerful Polk Sen. JD Alexander.

Thanks to Alexander's antics, and the cooperation of Gov. Rick Scott, the Legislature transformed the USF Polytechnic branch campus in Lakeland into a separate university — without students, accreditation or financial justification.

Taxpayers will long lament this shoddy episode of pork-barrel politics.

But USF did not let the assault diminish its resolve to strengthen its role as a major research university.

Indeed, as USF President Judy Genshaft revealed the collaboration with Lakeland Regional, she also announced the school generated more than $400 million in research funds, which puts it in the top 50 public and private universities in the country.

It is telling that the unpleasant Polytechnic experience did not discourage USF from developing another Lakeland partnership.

With the 851-bed Lakeland Regional, the school will have its own teaching hospital.

The Lakeland hospital will add at least an additional 200 residencies to USF, giving it more than 900 and making it the largest physician training program in the state.

Lakeland is the fifth-largest hospital in Florida and has the busiest emergency room. It will be an enormous resource.

But it will benefit from its connection to USF's research and education programs. The residency program will provide the hospital a reliable source of new doctors.

If all is approved by their respective boards, USF Health and Lakeland Regional will use a formula developed by both parties to divide revenue.

Lakeland is only the latest addition to an impressively diverse USF Health system.

USF Health has the largest diabetes research center in the nation. Its Byrd Alzheimer's Institute is a leader in neurological research. The school is establishing a Heart Institute that will focus on using individuals' data to develop personalized treatments.

USF Health developed a personalized health care treatment system for The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida north of Tampa.

This year it opened the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa, where physicians and medical personnel use lifelike simulators to improve their skills. The university also has close ties to numerous distinguished medical facilities, such as Tampa General Hospital (where the majority of USF residents serve), Moffitt Cancer Center and the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, where students train and faculty practice.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, makes clear he wants other institutions to join the USF Health network.

But even if they don't, he is intent on developing partnerships that will expand USF's reach while meeting citizens' health care needs.

"We're looking to be a statewide medical school with the headquarters in Tampa," he says.

The goal may be ambitious, but USF is demonstrating precisely the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that can make it happen.

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