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East County Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019 1 year ago

After 15 years, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center continues to grow to serve community

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The hospital has served more than 1 million patients.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

On Sept. 1, 2004, Dr. Richard Aranibar was the admitting doctor on Lakewood Ranch Medical Center's opening day.

It was an exciting time for Lakewood Ranch, unless you were the admitting doctor.

"We had two patients who came the first day," Aranibar said. "They both came to me. The first guy had six nurses all to himself. The other guy had a heart block and needed a pacemaker."

Fifteen years later, it is a lot busier at the hospital.

"I bought the third house that was sold in the Country Club," said Aranibar, who is a lung doctor who doubles as the hospital's critical care specialist. "I remember having meetings at Northern Trust to put plans down (for the hospital). We had seven plans for the future hospital in 1998.

"I used to go roller blading down Lakewood Ranch Boulevard at the time and no one would be on the road. I saw them pulling alligators off this land where they were building the hospital."

As Lakewood Ranch has grown, the hospital has kept pace.

"There are corridors here that weren't here 15 years ago," Aranibar said. "I will walk through and think, 'This didn't used to be there.' And it's going to be even bigger. We will have to add a new wing."

Kevin DiLallo, the Manatee Healthcare System Group vice president and Manatee Memorial  CEO, celebrated the 15-year anniversary with his system's employees and praised the Lakewood Ranch facility. "I am proud of the growth within the hospital and the local community," DiLallo said. "Growth means improving services for our patients."

John Hall, the director of Surgical Services for the hospital, has been part of the growth. On Sept. 1, 2004, he was a staff nurse who was the emergency room circulator.

"I would take care of the room for the physicians," he said.

As the hospital grew, he was promoted up through the ranks. After four years as an emergency room circulator, he became the charge nurse in the operating room, overseeing the day-to-day operations schedule for the nurses and the technicians. Then for the past five years, he was promoted to his current position where he oversees the operating room, the prep area. the pre-admission testing area and endoscopy.

"It's a whole different place now," Hall said of the physical structure. "It was small then and we didn't have many patients. But we were gathering the things we needed. And since it was a new hospital, we could make it our own. That was a nice thing."

While the hospital grew in physical stature as well as in patients and staff members, Hall said it kept its smallish appeal.

"The culture here always has been welcoming, for both the staff and the patients," he said. "In this community, I've always been proud to say what I do, and what we do here. Most of the time, I get good feedback. I am happy where I am, and I feel I can make a difference."

Since 2004, Lakewood Ranch medical center has cared for more than 1 million patients, has conducted more than 650,000 imaging tests and delivered more than 10,000 babies. The staff currently has more than 550 physicians on staff with more than 550 non-physician staff members.

To keep up with the community minimally-invasive robotic surgery, an advanced MRI system and suite, a
new CT scanner, an additional heart catheterization lab which enables electrophysiology procedures and a new
location and suite for its breast health center.

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center CEO Andy Guz, who has been on the job three years, said since he took the job, the numbers of surgeries performed at the hospital has increased by 1,000 a year.

"Our No. 1 challenge during that time is 'How do you keep the culture intact?" Guz said. "It's about how we act on a day-to-day basis. It's about leadership and staff, and it's not about just technical competency. Every single employee is asked to focus on these three things. High safety. Practice high-quality medicine. Be nice."

That philosophy sits well with Hall, who said Guz sets the example by being accessible to all the employees and by walking around to different departments, handing out cookies and asking for feedback.

"I love this place," Hall said. "I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. It's a culture of positivity."

Aranibar said he earned his masters in business administration with the thought of going into hospital administration, but he loves his current job too much.

"You know the TV show Cheers?" Aranibar said. "They would say, 'Where everybody knows your name.' That's how it is here."

Aranibar said he still goes around the community and gets asked if Lakewood Ranch Medical Center is a real hospital. He assures them that yes, it's a real hospital.

"Then people come here and see what has happened," he said. "They say, 'Wow, I didn't know you did all this stuff.'"

Guz said the hospital will continue to expand and he plans to announce another expansion project in the fall.

Those who want to join the effort had better be ready for some fast-paced action as opposed to the first day in 2004.

"Some people move to Florida thinking they will slow down," Guz said. "They see our hospital as a nice facility where they can work. But we are looking for people who are hungry and who want to grow. This is not the place to come to retire. You're not going out on a boat at 2. This is a high-performing machine."

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