Florida Cardiovascular Institute joins USF Health

Move strengthens cardiovascular services at region’s only academic health center

Tampa, FL  (Feb. 13, 2014) — Florida Cardiovascular Institute, a leading private cardiology practice, has joined forces with USF Health, creating the largest clinical cardiology practice in Tampa at the region’s only academic health center.

“We’re thrilled Florida Cardiovascular Institute is with us. When we looked at all the pieces, it was a natural fit,” said Jeffrey Lowenkron, MD, CEO of the USF Physicians Group.  “The attractiveness of the scope of services and expertise we offer is higher with the addition of FCI.”

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Sitting, l to r, Dr. Arthur Labovitz, chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, with Dr. Fadi Matar, acting director of the department’s new FCI Division. Standing, l to r, Dr. Bengt Herweg, director of electrophysiology and arrhythmia services at USF Health with the FCI cardiologists who, along with Dr. Matar, have joined USF Health: Drs. J. Thompson Sullebarger, Joel Fernandez, Dany Sayad, John Ramirez and Olga Kuteyeva.

Adding six FCI cardiologists increases to 18 the number of full-time clinical cardiology faculty members in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences.  FCI also brings 7,500 patients and 33 full and part-time nurses, medical assistants, ultrasound technicians and administrative staff to the USF Physicians Group, the largest multispecialty practice on Florida’s west coast.

The group will continue to provide care at its current South Tampa location, 509 S. Armenia Ave. USF Health has leased the 10,000-square-foot, second-floor space occupied by FCI, and in March a new co-branded sign will appear on the building.

“These physicians are all high-quality clinicians who add depth and will enrich our overall practice,” said Arthur Labovitz, MD, professor and chair of the USF Health Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and an acting director of the USF Health Heart Institute.  “They will be a catalyst for advancing our department’s growing presence in the community. We will be better positioned to meaningfully affect how cardiovascular medicine is practiced in the Tampa Bay region.”

FCI was established in 1999 by founding physicians Fadi Matar, MD, and J. Thompson Sullebarger, MD, after they left USF’s medical school to go into private practice.  Dr. Matar, medical director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Tampa General Hospital, and Dr. Sullebarger, chief of cardiology at TGH, now return to academic medicine as associate professors in USF’s newly created Division of Florida Cardiovascular Institute. Dr. Matar serves as the division’s acting director.

FCI considered several larger groups in the Tampa Bay area as potential partners. But, Dr. Matar said, the private practice’s longstanding interest in research and education and its work at Tampa General, the university’s major teaching hospital, made USF Health “the best fit.”

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Dr. Labovitz and Dr. Matar

“We feel good about the move. We’re growing our family from six cardiologists to 18, and they are all colleagues we’ve worked well with in the past,” Dr. Matar said. “Being part of an academic group on the cutting-edge of studying and offering new therapies makes us better doctors who can provide the highest-level care to our patients.”

The transaction highlights a growing national trend of independent physician groups merging with larger partners as doctors seek to avoid being squeezed by shrinking insurance reimbursement rates, control expenses, and adjust to changes in the health care delivery system driven, in part, by the Affordable Care Act.  What cardiologists and other specialists are getting paid for certain procedures or visits is in many cases declining, while the expense and complexity of running a practice are increasing.

“There’s been downward pressure on payment,” Dr. Lowenkron said, “so if you’re in a bigger place it’s probably true you’re a little bit safer.”

USF and FCI say that the move made sense for more reasons than the financial advantages of building a bigger practice. There was alignment between the two groups in several key areas, including:

–          Like-minded patient-centered care philosophies.

–          A shared perspective on the importance of USF Health’s academic missions of education and research in making health care better.

–          The desire to train future cardiologists for the challenges and opportunities of a changing healthcare system

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Dr.Matar speaks with a patient. He and his FCI colleagues have a keen interest in teaching future cardiologists and engaging in clinical research.

Together the two physician groups can offer patients a fuller spectrum of cardiovascular subspecialty services than either could alone.  For example, Dr. Lowenkron said, FCI will help cover USF’s gaps in interventional cardiology, while USF’s strength in electrophysiology appealed to FCI.

The university’s research infrastructure, including support for grant writing, biostatistics and outcomes research, and the opportunity to participate in investigator-driven studies also appealed to FCI, Dr. Labovitz said.

FCI adds about a dozen industry-sponsored clinical trials to USF’s mix of 24 federally-funded, private and pharmaceutical-sponsored trials testing new cardiovascular drugs or devices and evaluating standards of care.  That means USF Health cardiology patients have access to an impressive array of clinical studies involving heart failure, hypertension, arrhythmias and other cardiovascular diseases, as well as the first genomics trial, in partnership with the American College of Cardiology, examining the link between genetic information and the risk of developing these diseases.

In addition to Dr. Matar and Dr. Sullebarger, the other FCI cardiologists to join USF Health are Joel Fernandez, MD; Olga Kuteyeva, MD, John Ramirez, MD; and Dany Sayad, MD, all assistant professors.

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USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit www.health.usf.edu

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

Media contact:
Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications
(813) 974-3303,  or abaier@health.usf.edu