UF Health Shands named best in state

Esther Blondeau-Lecomte, of the University of Florida College of Medicine, performs a coronavirus test on a resident in March. The Villages Health partnered with UF Health Shands Hospital to provide the testing.

A top hospital in Florida sits in Gainesville — but its national rankings status delivers significant health care value to The Villages because of its growing ties here. U.S. News & World Report recently named University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville the best hospital in Florida, a title it shares with Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. UF Health Shands is the flagship facility that also connects UF Health The Villages Hospital, UF Health Leesburg Hospital and plans for a third hospital here, all able to tap into Shands’ nine medical specialities that place in the nation’s top 50, ranging from 17th in urology to 33rd in geriatrics to 45th in orthopedics.

“Often you lose the quality and the high outcomes when you start to build a large network, but I think we’re most proud of a high-quality system,” said Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “These rankings are external validation.”

The recognition isn’t just good news for Villagers who go to Shands for specialized care, Nelson said. UF Health acquired The Villages and Leesburg hospitals earlier this year with further plans to expand its local presence.

“Patients travel from across Florida and the nation to tap the deep expertise and commitment of our physicians, faculty and staff,” UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said in a release.

But UF Health envisions a future when Villagers don’t have to travel to Gainesville to access many of Shands’ specialists, Nelson said. And it is in the process of populating a number of those programs closer to this population, likely starting with orthopedics within the next year.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to provide many of these highly ranked programs at the local level,” Nelson said.

What makes these programs top-notch is not just the clinical care provided, he said. That care is driven by research and high-quality education, Nelson said, which UF Health plans to engage Villages residents in.

They got a glimpse at this during the partnership with The Villages Health during drive-thru COVID-19 testing at The Villages, which included a research arm testing patients with no symptoms.

Residents can expect to see top UF Health students, residents and fellows in their community through the hospitals and the private practice groups, Nelson said.

UF Health has repeatedly proven that its care hasn’t suffered as it expanded in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Central Florida, Nelson said.

He joined UF as a gastrointestinal-liver doctor 28 years ago.

Though honored by the ranking, Nelson said UF Health remains committed to focusing on patients’ day-to-day experience with the system.

He looks forward to bringing that mindset to new projects in The Villages, including 400 acres set aside for a wellness village, including a third UF Health hospital to serve the local area. Anticipated to be developed in the next few years, the acute-care hospital was announced in December. The hospital campus also is envisioned to include health clinics, teaching facilities, research labs for products specific to older adults and on-site housing for medical personnel.

“The best is still ahead for the UF Health and The Villages partnership,” Nelson said.

Senior writer Ciara Varone can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5395, or ciara.varone@thevillagesmedia.com.​