- December 30, 2019
One morning in early December 2021, just as another wave of COVID-19 was blanketing the country, Andrew “Andy” Guz quietly waited in a side room at the Grove restaurant in Lakewood Ranch.
The CEO of Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, Guz was waiting with a dozen or so nurses and other hospital staffers. They were at the Grove for a feel-good moment: the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund had named the entire hospital staff Humanitarian of the Year for its exemplary COVID-19 care protocol. They were there for a celebratory luncheon. Yet despite his stature and title, Guz mostly tried to stay out of the limelight. He didn’t want to take the focus away from the nurses, physician assistants and other staff members whom he considers to be the true heroes.
That can particularly be seen in one of the photos taken that day: Guz is in the background, behind the team. He’s smiling widely, yet barely visible. That’s vintage Guz, say several people who have known and worked with him, including Kevin DiLallo, group vice president of the Florida Region for Universal Health Services, which owns LWRMC. DiLallo, former CEO and Group VP for the Manatee Healthcare System at UHS, recruited Guz to be CEO in 2016. “He really has endeared himself to the staff,” DiLallo says. “They see him as one of them, and they are always very appreciative of him.”
That leaders-eat-last mindset that guides Guz, 41, has been a key tactic in his successfully overseeing six years of expansive and rapid growth at LWRMC — with more to come in 2023. “I listen to employees and get them what they need,” is one of his mantras.
One telling example: Guz attended a Saturday meeting during a peak moment in the pandemic, during which a staff member suggested putting baby monitors in rooms. This way, staff entering rooms wouldn't have to keep putting on and discarding personal protective equipment. It would make a difference in how much PPE would be used. Guz heard the staff person loud and clear. He drove, that day, to Target where he purchased 12 baby monitors. He understood that keeping flexible was a key logistic in navigating the pandemic — and essential to any company’s success and survival.
Just off Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, LWRMC opened in 2004. The 120-bed hospital provides a full array of medical services, including cardiovascular, surgical and orthopedics services, stroke, maternity and obstetrical care, and intensive care and emergency services. The hospital recently announced that it plans to build a $120 million, five-story, 60-bed patient tower on its main campus. Expected to take several years, the first phase, in addition to the 60 patient beds, includes expansion of key ancillary departments such as pharmacy, laboratory, education, pre-admission testing and food and nutrition services. The 170,000-square-foot tower will include shell space for an additional 60 patient beds, the ability to add two more floors and expansion of other areas.
The project, say hospital officials, will lead to some 100 new jobs. Pre-construction work is scheduled to begin this year and the first phase is expected to be completed in 2025.
The latest expansion announcement comes some 3.5 years after another expansion. That one, completed in summer 2019, was a 14-month, $28.5 million project that included two additional operating rooms; shell space for two more operating rooms; an additional heart catheterization lab; a new advanced MRI system; a new location for the Breast Health Center; and new administrative office space.
While excited about the potential to serve more people, Guz maintains the idea isn’t to grow for growth’s sake, but to serve the booming population of East County and Lakewood Ranch. “We have more people who need medical services, so we want to provide those services,” he says.
Even at 180 beds after the new expansion, LWRMC will be smaller than the pair of other leading medical facilities in the region. Manatee Memorial, in downtown Bradenton, is owned by Universal Health Services Inc., and has 295 beds, while Sarasota Memorial, a nonprofit community-operated facility, has 901 beds. Guz says LWRMC could be at 240 beds within five years — double its current size.
Size matters in hospitals — in everything from economies of scale with vendors and suppliers to attracting doctors and specialties to government reimbursements. Size matters, too, in branding for the public. When Guz was named CEO in 2016, even though LWRMC had been in existence for 12 years, he says “my first goal was to put this hospital on the map.”
He vividly recalls the disconnect in the community back then. At events and meeting new people around town he would field a lot of “do you?” questions. Do you do surgeries there? Do you deliver babies there? “I spent an inordinate amount of time answering questions,” he says. “It didn’t help that we didn’t have ‘hospital’ in our name and it also didn’t help that we looked like a hotel, not a hospital.”
Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance CEO Brittany Lamont met Guz soon after he came to town, when Lamont was with the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. She’s seen him grow into the role and was there the day the LWRMC team won the Humanitarian Award. Lamont says she’s most impressed with Guz’s calm demeanor. “He leads with logic over emotion,” she says. “I’m sure it happens, but I’ve never seen him get riled up. If he does, he never lets it show.”
Guz credits his family, to a large part, for his calm demeanor and friendly disposition. He grew up in Weirton, West Virginia, west of the Pennsylvania border and Pittsburgh. His dad worked in steel mills and his mom was a nurse who spent most of her career teaching nursing. Guz knew he didn’t want to work in the mills, and he also didn’t want to be in the allied health side, delivering health care to patients.
But the business side of running a hospital? That became Guz’s passion early on, first at Marshall University in West Virginia, and later at Cornell, where he earned a master’s in health care administration. “There’s a lot of other things that go into running a giant (health care) organization,” he says. “There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes that nobody sees.”
After a brief stint in Polk County, at Bartow Regional Medical Center, Guz went on to work for hospitals in Washington state and Indiana. He was CEO of Jennersville Regional Hospital in West Grove, Pennsylvania, south of Philadelphia, when DiLallo called him about the opening in Lakewood Ranch. “He’s very growth oriented,” DiLallo says, “and was a perfect fit for this hospital.”
Like many others, Guz and his family had vacationed on Siesta Key. And moving back to Florida was a long-range, back-of-the-mind goal. Closing in on seven years in the CEO role, he remains excited for both the long-range growth and day-to-day.
“It’s hard to be stuck in a rut in this job,” he says. “There’s just so many different things happening every day.”