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Missionary zeal is in Daryl Tol’s DNA. The son and grandson of missionaries, Tol, now CEO of Florida Hospital and the Central Florida region of Adventist Health System, addressed Indian River Medical Center board members and Hospital District trustees last Friday with equal parts fervor and candor.

Not that Adventist, a national 45-hospital health system with $10 billion in revenues, wasn’t already high on the list of partners IRMC considered last week.

Florida Hospital in Orlando ranks fourth in the state on U.S. News and Report’s Best Hospitals list and is tied for No. 1 in the Orlando metro area with Orlando Health’s Orlando Regional Medical Center.

By the time Tol and the others finished a two-hour, very persuasive presentation Friday, it was hard not to wonder whether IRMC prayers for a large, wealthy partner had finally been answered.

Tol didn’t wait to be asked how faith fits into the Adventist Health System. His first sentence after introducing his panel concerned the basic Adventist belief in holistic care, and he talked about how deeply that concept permeates the organization.

“Our mission is extending the healing ministry of Christ,” Tol said, straight out of the gate. “That means we are faith-based. It does not mean we are evangelistic in the way that we approach our patients. It means we take a whole-person approach to patient care.

“It’s impossible to slice a human being into component parts,” Tol went on. “It is impossible to treat the physical needs without treating the emotional and spiritual needs of patients.”

Whole person care, he insisted, is “a strategic and clinical advantage.”

Tol conveyed a welcome optimism, a stark contrast to the gloom-and-doom scenarios laid out by healthcare experts in the months since IRMC has been looking at restructuring. Among the sunny concepts in the company’s vision is connectedness. Healthcare has become fragmented, to the detriment of patients, whom he empoweringly calls consumers.

And it is the consumer that belongs at the top of the priorities list, Tol said. “What is the consumer’s experience of healthcare? How does the consumer define the problem in healthcare? How do we build entirely in the interest of the consumer?”

His views meshed perfectly with the top goal of both the Hospital District trustees and the IRMC board: that in any future system IRMC joins, the patient must be the focus.

This past summer, Adventist Health began a billboard and Internet campaign to promote an idea Tol touted in his Vero presentation. Dubbed “Someday Starts Today,” the ads offer a tight shot of a smiling face with verbiage pointing to a different kind of healthcare path. “Someday Hospitals Will Heal More Than the Body,” and “Convenient Virtual Physician Visits Start Today.”

The unconventional campaign’s aim is to go beyond just being a marketing appeal and “become more of a conversation in the community,” Tol told the Orlando Sentinel. “We have to build a system around the consumer.”

To the IRMC group, Tol stressed that “we don’t just want to see people when their sick. We want them to think of us when they’re well.”

Tol turned the floor over to Adventist Health CFO Paul Rathbun to discuss the organization’s financial health and strategy. In the Orlando market, Adventist’s Florida Hospital goes head to head with Orlando Health, another, smaller system that is also one of the four finalists for IRMC.

Adventist Health System includes 46 hospitals in nine states, including Colorado, Texas and Illinois, as well as 20 nursing homes and 25 home health agencies. The company’s Florida Hospital division includes about half of those hospitals. Headquartered in Altamonte Springs, the system has most of its hospitals in relatively small communities, including Apopka, Celebration, Deland, Orange City, Palm Coast, Sebring and Lake Placid, Tavares and Wauchula.

Vero Beach would seem a good fit in that list but for one trait: the affluence of its barrier island. While that may factor into marketing decisions, and out-migration to faraway hospitals renowned for specialized treatment, it would mostly seem to be a plus in terms of philanthropy.

As Rathbun flipped through images of various rehabs Adventist has facilitated for the system’s acquisitions – a new patient tower here, a new exterior façade there – it certainly must have passed through the minds of some audience members that the new patient tower IRMC desperately needs – and was about to start soliciting donations for – could one day be built with the millions coming instead from Adventist corporate.

“When we enter into a new market, a lot of times that comes with capital commitments,” said Rathbun. “Things that had been deferred maintenance, but that are going to really jumpstart the organization and give it a lift.

“Once we do that, which generally takes five years, we have a capital model for the operating cash flow generated at each location. Those moneys stay within the community. We don’t shift from community A to community B. What happens in Indian River County stays in Indian River County. Seventy-five percent of that capital is earmarked for capital. And the other 25 percent – you may have a small amount of debt service but it stays on the local balance sheet. We want every individual market to be strong.”

Rathbun also made it clear that the same targeted fund-raising that built IRMC’s cancer and heart centers could still be possible if IRMC were to partner with Adventist Health. “There are a lot of foundations that are independent,” he said. “We want that and most of the things in the company driven by the individual market.”

Adventist Health System (not to be confused with California’s Adventist Health or the Maryland-based Adventist Healthcare) traces its roots to Ellen G. White, a 19th century author whose spiritual visions as a young woman were believed to be Biblical prophecy.

Along with healthy living, many Adventist social notions align closely with modern American values: man’s essential freedom of choice, separation of church and state, and the value of education. While one well-known Seventh Day Adventist, former presidential candidate Ben Carson, is known for his conservative bent, many Adventists consider themselves liberal.

Today, Adventists have the second largest faith-based school system in the nation, after Catholics. Ellen G. White had a hand in the curriculum: holistic education would incorporate intellectual growth with service to humanity, encompassing mental, physical, social and spiritual health. 

Early adherents eschewed not only alcohol but tobacco, caffeine and eventually meat. Those dietary precepts were of concern to Vero hospital leaders during the initial discussion that led to Adventist Health becoming a finalist. Specifically, they wanted to know if patients could get coffee and bacon.

There was a time years ago when a Wendy’s on the Florida Hospital premises wasn’t allowed to offer bacon burgers. That has changed. Dietary offerings appear to be similar to any other hospitals. And among the dining options on the main campus of Florida Hospital is a vegetarian café.

IRMC staff, already anxious about looming changes, also would be reassured to hear that the Gallup organization ranked Adventist Health a “Great Place to Work” in 2017 for the seventh straight year.

That honor is awarded after applicants submit a 50-employee survey followed up with analysis by a Gallup panel. It was also named a Best Place to Work by Becker’s Hospital Review.

Tol pointed out that viability is an ongoing concern, even in an organization that is a century old. “We do not go into a community to flip. We go into communities to stay and grow and thrive. That has always been the case and that will always be the case,”   Tol declared.