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Education

Klasko, USF medical dean, leaving for Philadelphia


Published:   |   Updated: June 21, 2013 at 02:06 PM

TAMPA - The pioneering and polarizing leader of the University of South Florida's medical school is heading back to his Philly roots.

Nine years after arriving in Tampa, Stephen Klasko returns to his native Philadelphia in a dual role, as president of Thomas Jefferson University and chief executive officer of its health system. Thursday's announcement came after months of unsolicited recruitment from Thomas Jefferson and other institutions, he said.

"It's a credit to USF I was getting calls about university president jobs," said Klasko, who serves as USF's senior vice president for health services, dean of the college of medicine and chief executive officer of USF Health. "I probably would not have left USF for any other position than to . a 190-year-old university in my hometown."

USF President Judy Genshaft told the state university system Board of Governors a search will begin soon to replace Klasko, whom she lured from another major private medical school in Philadelphia, Drexel University.

"We are very, very, very pleased with the kind of work Steve Klasko has given not only to the university, but also to the state of Florida," Genshaft said. "He's laid a great footprint for University of South Florida Health and we will follow in that footprint."

Under Klasko's leadership, USF Health evolved from playing second or third fiddle in the state's medical school ranks to an aggressive branded health system known for entrepreneurial projects and a slew of healthcare business partnerships.

He cites among his biggest accomplishments the creation of a high-tech continuing medical education center in downtown Tampa, known by its acronym CAMLS, and obtaining a $37 million gift that built the Morsani College of Medicine on the USF Tampa campus.

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These kinds of deals helped the obstetrician with a master's in business administration win fans in the business community. But his eagerness to work outside traditional academic medical structures created tensions, particularly with Tampa General Hospital, where more than half the physicians have an affiliation with USF and 300 of the school's medical residents train.

USF Health and Tampa General leadership may have different approaches, but they both want to improve health care in the Tampa Bay area, Klasko said. His job was to focus on raising the university's research and clinical profile at an economically tough time for health care and state institutions.

"There often is tension between hospitals and universities. It's not just in Tampa," said Klasko, 59. "My job was to create a research powerhouse for USF when we were losing 40 percent of our state funding."

Klasko said he was optimistic about recent talks with Tampa General's new chief executive officer, Jim Burkhart, over continued academic and clinical collaborations. Burkhart issued a statement wishing Klasko well.

"I've known Dean Klasko for just three months, but in that time we've established a very positive working relationship," Burkhart said. "While I am sorry to see him move on, I understand that this is an exciting opportunity. I wish him nothing but success."

USF's medical school grew significantly during Klasko's tenure, from 103 medical students and 568 residents to 554 medical students and 706 residents. Ralph Wilcox, USF's provost and executive vice president, said Klasko will leave a mark on the entire Tampa Bay area.

"He's clearly been one of the most innovative thinkers and visionaries that I've had the pleasure to work with over the years, not just in the healthcare community," Wilcox said. "I think he's challenged us all to rethink some of the traditions associated with higher education and how we might re-vision our future."

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Not all of Klasko's projects have been successful. His longtime efforts to build an on-campus university-owned hospital failed, and ultimately led to multiple research and clinical collaborations with private medical centers, including HCA-owned hospital trauma centers and the Florida Hospital system.

He is unapologetic about his business approach to academic medicine, such as revising the salary structure for doctors in the USF physicians practice. It's why USF Health has thrived as America's health care industry undergoes massive organizational and financial upheaval, he said.

"I think we've gotten closer (to success) than any other program on the planet that doesn't own its own hospital," Klasko said.

Klasko was in the second year of a five-year contract that pays $747,879 in annual salary, plus an additional $100,000 signing bonus. While he walks away from more than $1 million in incentives he would have received in 2016, it was widely rumored he was looking to leave.

His interest in moving on emerged publicly several weeks ago when he was named a finalist to lead the medical school at the University of Nebraska. Last week, he withdrew his name from that short list, saying he and his family couldn't commit to moving to Omaha. He said Thursday he decided to take the job in Philadelphia five weeks ago.

Thursday's announcement does leave several lingering issues at USF Health. A pending operational merger with Lakeland Regional Medical Center remains unsettled. Klasko said plans to add up to 200 medical residents at the hospital still are under way.

He also said he's optimistic clinical partnerships with Lakeland will move forward, and suggested Tampa General could play a part. Lakeland leaders say they want to move forward, too.

"We remain excited and committed to working with the University of South Florida as we evaluate the opportunity to become a teaching hospital," said Elaine Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Lakeland Regional Health Systems.

Klasko will be in Tampa a few months before moving to Thomas Jefferson, where he will oversee an urban college campus and a health system that includes its own free-standing academic medical center with 969 licensed hospital beds. It's a much larger system that USF Health, but he said he's confident it can adapt to the change healthcare world just as successfully.

"I can promise that five years from now Thomas Jefferson will not look like it does today," he said.

mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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