With expansions and partnerships, Winter Park Memorial is helping to transform the Lakemont Avenue corridor into a leading-edge medical hub.

When the City of Winter Park, during the updating of its comprehensive plan, designated the Winter Park Memorial Hospital campus and contiguous property as a Medical Arts District, it merely codified what has been apparent for several years.

The Lakemont Avenue corridor and the surrounding neighborhood is emerging as a health and wellness hub to rival those found in much larger cities.

The designation prohibits residential development in the immediate vicinity of the hospital, except for such projects as assisted living, independent living and memory care facilities. Exceptions may be made for industry-specific workforce housing.

At the epicenter of this burgeoning wellness world will be Winter Park Memorial, which can trace its beginnings to 1951. That’s when a group of community leaders, frustrated at having to drive to Orlando for care, bought 15 acres on what had been the golf course of the long-defunct Aloma Country Club.

The group, known as the Winter Park Memorial Hospital Association, raised more than $850,000 from 2,500 individual donors. Ground was broken in 1953, and the hospital opened its doors — with great fanfare — in 1955. There were 58 beds, two operating rooms, a fracture room and a delivery room.

About 12,000 people called Winter Park home in the Eisenhower era. Today, nearly 30,000 people live within the city’s corporate limits, and thousands more on its periphery. So the hospital is growing to stay ahead of demand, which will only increase as the population ages.

During its first year, Winter Park Memorial served 2,000 patients, delivered 200 babies and became known as the “hospital with a heart.” Adventist Health System — which is based in Altamonte Springs and operates 45 hospitals in nine states — bought the Winter Park facility in 2000. It then became part of Florida Hospital, which has 22 campuses throughout Central and Southwest Florida.

Pretty much the entire city showed up for Winter Park Memorial’s grand opening in 1955 (top). That’s not surprising, since more than 2,500 locals contributed to the building fund. The original facility (above) was designed by Winter Park architect James Gamble Rogers II.

Today, with 320 beds, Winter Park Memorial recorded more than 75,000 visits and 16,000 inpatient admissions last year. More than 3,400 babies were delivered — the second-most among the 18 hospitals under the Florida Hospital umbrella.

And expansion is accelerating, with the hospital’s own Nicholson Pavilion, and through a collaboration with the community-based Winter Park Health Foundation in the adjacent Center for Health & Wellbeing, which is slated to open late next year.

“Down the road, we’ll also be knocking down portions of the old hospital and modernizing it,” says administrator Jennifer Wandersleben. A major focus, she says, will be redesigning the exterior of the main building that faces Lakemont Avenue, where the emergency room is.

Winter Park Memorial’s main entrance is on Edinburgh Drive, but Lakemont is far more heavily traveled. Wandersleben says plans for renovating and enhancing the most visible part of the hospital are now being formulated.

Jennifer Wandersleben has spent her entire career with Adventist Health System, and in April was named administrator of Winter Park Memorial. She’s set to preside over a period of unprecedented growth.

Currently underway just east of the hospital is the $85 million Nicholson Pavilion, which will add 80 all-private patient rooms — with space for 80 more in the future — as well as a new main lobby. Completion of the five-story project will also mean that most of the hospital’s existing 320 beds will become private.

The Mediterranean-style building, which is set to open in 2019, is named for local philanthropists Tony and Sonja Nicholson. “We feel blessed to be able to share with the Winter Park community in this way,” says Tony Nicholson, who with his wife is also namesake of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida and Florida Hospital’s Nicholson Center at Celebration.

“We’re excited for the impact this pavilion will have,” he adds. “Remember, this is where life begins and where we come to get the best medical attention during our lifetimes.”

Tom Yochum, past board president of the Winter Park Memorial Hospital Family Foundation, agrees that the pavilion — which represents the largest investment in the hospital’s history — will be an important step forward.

“As an almost 50-year resident of Winter Park and a patient at times in this hospital, I know this pavilion will bring to Winter Park a facility that will meet the needs of our community for a long time to come,” he says.

As soon as it opens, the pavilion will house orthopedics, followed by medical and surgical services. Wandersleben says there’ll also be a “legacy wall” that will tell the story of the hospital’s beginnings and celebrate its more than 60-year relationship with the community.

Winter Park Memorial’s main entrance on Edinburgh Drive is beautifully designed and lushly landscaped. In the coming months, in addition to expansion projects now underway, the hospital will renovate more visible parts of the complex along busy Lakemont Avenue, where the emergency room is located.

Florida Hospital will also have a 15,000-square-foot presence in the Center for Health & Wellbeing, a $40 million facility taking shape just south of the hospital on the site of the old Philip & Peggy Crosby YMCA.

The center will boast clinical space, rooms for education and community activities, a café and demonstration kitchen as well as an upgraded Crosby Y. The hospital is planning to offer primary care, pharmacy, nutrition, physical therapy, mental health and massage therapy at the center, says Wandersleben.

Financial incentives within the healthcare industry are shifting to value wellness and not just office visits, tests and procedures, she adds. And that’s another reason why affiliating with the center makes sense: Seventh-day Adventist medical pioneers were promoting the benefits of fresh air, sunshine and healthful eating 150 years ago.

Says Wandersleben: “We’re going back to our roots.”

 

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