Orlando Health is planning to expand its reach beyond Central Florida by taking a new hospital under its wings in Polk County.

The heath system announced today that Lakeland Regional Health could be joining Orlando Health’s cadre of hospitals later this year by forming an affiliation.

“The goal is for us to become an integrated health-care system,” said Orlando Health CEO David Strong, in an interview. “They’ll become a part of Orlando Health, but they’ll maintain a strong identity.”

This type of non-cash transaction between two nonprofit hospitals is one of the more common types of hospital deals. If all goes as planned, Orlando Health will be involved in Lakeland Regional’s operations, while the hospital will remain an asset of the City of Lakeland. Lakeland Regional’s CEO Elaine Thompson will report to Strong and the two systems will also have representations on each other’s Board of Directors.

In some cases, the larger entity takes on the liabilities of the smaller nonprofit, but that’s not the case in this proposed transaction, Orlando Health officials said. 

Not much else is expected to change.

Employees will remain under their respective organizations with same salaries and benefits, according to Orlando Health, and there are no plans for staff reductions, Casinovale Strong said.

Also, patients won’t have to worry about changing physicians, officials said. 

Strong said that affiliation with Lakeland Regional made sense from business, clinical and educational standpoints. 

“Scale matters,” he said.

Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center is Florida’s fifth largest hospital with 849 beds, which could add to Orlando Health’s 2,295 beds among its 8 hospitals.

With a 128-bed emergency department, Lakeland Regional has one of the busiest ERs in the state. It’s also the site of Polk County’s only Level II Trauma Center, receiving patients from Polk, Highlands, Hardee, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. 

Together, the systems can be a source of care for nearly three million people, according to Orlando Health.

Their proposed affiliation is up for a vote by the Lakeland City Commissioners on Feb. 6. If approved, the venture will become effective on Oct. 1 this year. 

“The affiliation with Orlando Health strategically positions our community’s health system for a strong and optimistic future,” said said Tony Delgado, Lakeland City Manager, in a news release.

nmiller@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5158, @naseemmiller

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