graduate medical education center

The new graduate medical education center housing Citrus Memorial Hospital's residency program opens its doors.

The building at 402 W. Grace St. once had the focus of healing souls. Now its focus is healing bodies of the sick and training the people who do it.

Citrus Memorial Hospital has turned the former Presbyterian church into its new $1.8 million graduate medical education center where the hospital will oversee its residency program. Doctors finishing medical school are required to complete three-year residency programs. The hospital began its internist residency program in 2018 with 15 residents. In 2019, 20 more joined the program. This July, 15 to 20 more are expected.

The hospital hosted a grand opening of the 15,857 square-foot building Wednesday with about 150 people taking tours. The residency building is on the hospital campus and a brief walk to Citrus Memorial Hospital. The building stopped being a church by the early 1980s. It was then used as an auditorium and a home health agency facility.

The former church now includes classrooms, an auditorium where the worship area once existed, several offices, computer work spaces, bathrooms and showers, and 10 small rooms with beds and night stands, and a shared recreation room.    

George Mavros, Citrus Memorial Hospital’s chief operating officer, oversaw the renovations of the building and headed a team of physicians, architects, and other hospital staff in its design.

The residency program “adds an additional dimension to the quality of care we provide our patients,” Mavros said.

It also helps to curb Citrus County’s alarming deficit of primary care physicians, “which continues to grow,” Mavros said.

During 2019, the county was short an average of 57.7 primary care doctors, according to a study commissioned for Hospital Corporation of America, the healthcare giant that leases and operates Citrus Memorial Hospital.

This year that average will climb to 67.7, Mavros said, citing the study. By 2022, the county is expected to be short an average of 78.1 primary doctors.

The long-term benefits of the residency program to the county is that doctors often stay in the area where they perform their residency programs, Mavros said. That is because by the end of the program they’ve already established a relationship with the hospital and area doctors.

Short-term, patients benefit from residency programs because they receive added attention from the hospital doctors and their accompanying residents.

It also benefits the hospital, said Aaron Liberman, professor emeritus from the University of Central Florida’s Department of Health Management & Informatics.

Residency programs expand the prestige of their hospitals, but more importantly they expand a hospital’s market footprint by adding doctors to its roles and as a result, additional patients, he previously told the Chronicle. It’s a trend being seen across the United States, he said.

Mavros said HCA created residency programs at many of its hospitals in an effort to get more doctors into communities and “HCA stepped up to that plate” in Citrus County with its program here.

HCA has the largest graduate medical education program in the country, he said.

Mavros said he did not yet know what other residency specialties would be added but expects the program to top off at between 90 — 100 doctors.

“That is a healthy program for our size facility and county,” he said.

He also said that the program raises the quality of healthcare here because area doctors working with the young residents have to be up-to-date in their specialties and will be driven to perform their best as they set an example to those they are teaching.

“We become better at what we do when we have to teach what we do,” he said. “Absent quality, it (the program) is meaningless.”

As for the money to renovate the building, Mavros said the federal government helps with small increases in its Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to the hospital to offset costs and encourage residency programs.   

“So dollar for dollar it’s very break even,” he said.

Residents and hospital staff will begin utilizing the renovated facility almost immediately after its opening Wednesday.

As for design and construction, the goal was always to leave the exterior of the building alone so to maintain its historical appearance, he said.

In working with the structure, “we identified ways we could fit the program into the existing walls and stay within the budget,” Mavros said. “All in all, it’s a very nice complex.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.