Health center adds vitality to economy

Braulio Vicente, left, executive director for specialty care with The Villages Health, gives a tour of the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood to Steve Printz, Sumter County Commission chairman and resident of the Village of Fernandina.

The recently opened Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood will attract patients from all across Florida and serve as a springboard for even more business opportunities in the area, according to government and health officials.  Eleven medical provider tenants have already opened in the four-story, 240,000-square-foot building that Sumter County Commission Chairman Steve Printz toured earlier this week.

“It’s an amazing facility, world-class,” Printz said. “It’s beautiful, and I’m excited to be able to see what capabilities and technologies that are here.” Printz was escorted on his tour by Braulio Vicente Jr., The Villages Health executive director for specialty care.

Vicente said he sees the center eventually drawing patients from destinations such as Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville and throughout the state, making it a health care destination for many Floridians. Already, it’s part of a boon for Villages residents, who have witnessed a 25% surge in the health care firms serving them, up to 260 total, during a four-year period that ended Dec. 31, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of those tenants inside the CAHB is Aviv Clinics at Brownwood, the first in the world at a non-research facility to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapies designed to improve the aging process by increasing cognitive and physical performance. Aviv Clinics’ improving brain performance research findings in Israel fuels increased attention on its Brownwood facility and its multi-faceted treatment program available here to non-research participants.

“You have innovation in technology being developed here that can be made available to anyone in the region,” Vicente said. “We have Aviv, a worldwide company that has settled here in The Villages to bring a technology that has never been introduced in the United States. So we know we’re going to bring people in for that.”

Aviv is joined by The Villages Health Specialty Care Center and other providers, with plans to add an ambulatory surgery center later.

“It’s unreal,” Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf said. “It’s hard to believe we’ve got a facility of that stature in the city of Wildwood. I come from an old-school generation where we begged for industry. We had none of this 15 years ago. To attract the magnitude of this technology to Sumter County, and specifically Wildwood, is mind-boggling.”

Vincente said the Brownwood Hotel & Spa, located next door, and connected by a skywalk, is a key component to the plan.

“We have the Brownwood Hotel & Spa next door that was designed and integrated with the Center for Advanced Healthcare; once again, to promote patients who are traveling from afar that they may have a place to stay when they’re seeking treatment in this location,” Vincente said.

Printz said it’s only natural to anticipate other businesses emerging that will benefit residents.

“When health care facilities come out of the ground, you have a lot of other ancillary businesses that crop up that really are supportive of, and complementary to, the capabilities that are going to be here,” said Printz, of the Village of Fernandina. “One small example is The Standard, a small coffee shop that opened up here. It’s entrepreneurs, and they’re struggling to make it work, but they’re really trying. So it breeds that excitement, that entrepreneurship that the county’s really trying to invest in and encourage businesses to expand, as well as relocate and locate in Sumter County.”

The commissioner said it’s also part of the bigger plan to improve the health care landscape. He points to The Villages’ previously announced partnership with UF Health and the commitment to build a second acute-care hospital and medical research park in The Villages.

“To me, that’s the key,” Printz said. “The expansion of world-class health care with the University of Florida Health and facilities like this expanding within Sumter County does bring access to folks, who up until now, really had to drive long distances to get comparable care, if at all. So this starts to open up that access. It creates choice for residents who probably didn’t have that choice prior to this opening.”

In just the span of about eight months, UF Health has already expanded into The Villages and tri-county area with the acquisition of what is now UF Health The Villages Hospital, UF Health Leesburg Hospital and UF Health The Villages Hospital Freestanding Emergency Room.

Medical providers in Sumter County contributed $22.4 million in annual fees charged for medical, surgical, optical, dental and related services — a jump of 25% in the last four years, according to data provided by the Florida Department of Revenue.

All that will attract even more services to take care of the residents, Wolf said.

“It just spurs more medical growth in the area,” Wolf said. “We’re just seeing the beginning of the medical opportunities that are going to be available in this area. This is a catalyst for who knows what. And I really think that we’re going to become known for what’s available in the medical field.”

The facility and the expanding health care opportunities also dovetail with the county commission’s economic development strategy to expand the commercial tax base to lessen the tax burden on residential property owners, Printz said. Commercial properties typically pay a much higher property tax than residential properties.

“It’s important we diversify our residential base to a broader tax base,” he said. “This helps facilitate that, and jumps starts it. It creates excitement. It creates an opportunity for people to see what can be and what will be over the long-term of this county. I get really happy when I see things like this come out of the ground. To me, it’s exciting.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.