Big hospital chain to employ up to 300 in Sarasota billing center

SARASOTA COUNTY – The corporate owner of Venice Regional Medical Center and other regional hospitals is establishing a centralized billing and collection center in Southwest Florida that could employ as many as 300 in coming years.

Officials managing the center — to be housed in the former Arthur Andersen complex off Fruitville Road — hope to start with a work force of 150 when they move in in July.

Health Management Associates has leased 28,500 square feet at the Sarasota Commerce Center. The operation will support 18 Florida hospitals, most of the 23 the company owns in Florida, from Crystal River to Key West.

“HMA is a great company that has grown in recent years and hopes to grow more in upcoming years,” said Mark Huey, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “This part of their operation supports that growth, and so we are thrilled that it has a home in our community, and we looking forward to that continued growth.”

HMA’s decision to expand in Southwest Florida brings to 1,300 the number of new jobs announced since the beginning of 2012 by a half-dozen employers:

Ringling Bros. circus operator Feld Entertainment plans to shift its worldwide production headquarters to Ellenton, adding 235 jobs to its payroll of 148 during the next five years.

Powered wheelchair maker Hoveround, as part of a headquarters move to Sarasota County from Manatee, plans to add 120 jobs.

Call center operator Protocol Global Solutions of Sarasota, which employs 400 here, said in February that it would double its staff to 800.

Enzymedica, a manufacturer moving to Venice, said in February that it would add 73 workers over the next four years, bringing its total employment to 120.

Cheney Brothers Inc. announced plans that same month to hire 380 workers for a new Charlotte County distribution center. The $30 million, 250,000-square-foot center will be completed in 2013.

Naples-based HMA already has 86 employees that work on billing and collections for its Florida hospitals at the Venice Regional Medical Center, part of the HMA chain since early 2005.

Huey said he became involved in November, when the agency discovered HMA was contemplating moving its billing and collections operation out of the area, or even out of state.

As part of its local commitment, HMA will receive $400,000 in pay-for-performance money over a four-year period, assuming the company hires and retains all 217 workers planned in Project Man, the code name the HMA center was dubbed by EDC officials.

Another $100,000 will be spent by Bradenton’s CareerEdge and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to to help train the new workers, Huey said.

In addition to billing and collections jobs, HMA official Dona Hofmeister said, the center will include management, clerical and other support positions.

“We are holding job fairs almost on a monthly basis,” Hofmeister said. “There is a lot of opportunity.”

Suncoast Workforce, a non-profit job agency that receives federal funding, is helping HMA line up recruits.

Joshua Matlock, Suncoast’s director of business services, said his group is using federal money to help pay for on-the-job training for some of the new employees.

“The salary range we are helping them with is $13 to $25,” Matlock said, referring to the per-hour pay at the new HMA unit. “Most recently, we have placed 12 people with them, and then they have immediate need for another 10. As they open up the facility, they are going to be hiring a lot more.”

With Suncoast, federal funding pays half an employee’s salary during a training period that can last up to six months.

“That allows them to hire someone that they would otherwise not take on, someone who needs some training,” Matlock said.

With its collection of hospitals, HMA has become a major player in the region. The Venice hospital has 1,150 employees, plus another 300 at the Gulf Coast Physicians Group. In Charlotte County, HMA owns Peace River Regional Medical Center and Charlotte Regional Medical Center, as well as dozens of other clinics and physician groups in the region.

HMA’s new Sarasota lease will take up roughly half of the third floor of a former Florida Power & Light office building that was occupied by Andersen beginning in 1997.

Andersen built a larger, but similar looking, building adjacent to the existing structure. After building up its Sarasota staff to about 800, Andersen folded in the spring of 2002, when its accounting arm was indicted on charges of conspiring to destroy records for failed energy giant Enron Corp.

The two former Andersen buildings are now separately owned.

The building where HMA is setting up shop, Sarasota Commerce Center II, is owned by Piedmont Office Realty Trust.

Kimberly Rogers, a CBRE real estate agent who handles leasing for the Piedmont building, said about 23,000 square feet remain available.