Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center (FHHMC) is located in Highlands County, Florida. It is the flagship hospital of Florida Hospital Heartland Division (FHHD), which in turn is part of the larger Florida Hospital system, which is part of the still larger Adventist Health System, a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. FHHMC serves Highlands County (along with Florida Hospital Lake Placid), southern Polk County, Florida, and along with Florida Hospital Wauchula, it serves Hardee County, Florida.
FHHMC was founded in 1948 as Walker Memorial Sanitarium and Hospital. Its name was later shortened to Walker Memorial Hospital. Walker was located in a building on the northeast shore of Lake Lillian (Florida), then a few miles north of Avon Park, Florida. This building was built in the 1920s as a hotel. In the 1930s it closed and was to be converted into a health resort; this never occurred, as the scheme fell apart. In World War II the US government bought the property and turned it into an academy to train men to become pilots for the US Army Air Corps, which became the US Army Air Forces. The academy closed at the end of the War.
After the War, many Highlands County residents desired to have a hospital in the County. The County itself lacked money to convert the old hotel into a hospital, so in 1946 various community leaders and representatives of the Adventist Church agreed the old hotel should be converted into a hospital. A subsidiary group of the Adventist Church purchased the old hotel building and other buildings on the site from the Federal government in June 1947 at a 100% discount with the provision that $150,000 be raised by October 1947 to be used toward converting the building for hospital use. The Adventist Church spent $400,000 to aid in developing the hospital. The Ridge Area Hospital Association, led by Charles Walker, worked in the community to obtain donations for the hospital project.
Just days after the government deadline in October, Walker died of a heart attack. It was decided to name the hospital after Walker. The hospital was dedicated on January 6, 1948. U.S. Senator Claude Pepper delivered the principal address. Still after this it took much volunteer work to ready the hospital for occupancy. Many volunteers stayed in a barracks building on the grounds while the work was done.
When Walker Memorial opened later in 1948, it attracted a small clientele, who paid $9 a day for a room, meals and a daily hydrotherapy treatment. The hospital after a few years stepped away from its resort-style beginning and began expanding its services. Various changes were made to the main building and to outlying buildings and grounds. It was said that by 1973 renovations were so extensive, that it was difficult to recognize features of the original hotel. Also, a number of physician offices and various health clinics sprouted in the area south of the hospital. A child care center for hospital employees was constructed three blocks south of Walker Memorial.
Walker Memorial became the headquarters of what was to become Florida Hospital Heartland Division (FHHD), as outlying facilities became part of the system. In 1982 a new satellite hospital was built just north of Lake Placid, becoming known as Florida Hospital Lake Placid. In 1992 Hardee Memorial Hospital, in Wauchula, Florida, closed and was purchased. It was reopened and became Florida Hospital Wauchula.
The Walker Memorial building was showing its age by the 1990s and the Adventists felt it was time to build a completely new facility. In the late 1990s work was begun on a new building seven miles to the south, the site of the current location of FHHMC. The new hospital, opened in 1997 on an 86-acre (35 ha) site, was originally called Florida Hospital Sebring. At that time FHHD and another Sebring hospital, Highlands Regional Medical Center, had a roughly equal footing in Highlands County in terms of size and services offered. Highlands Regional's beginning was in 1965. After FHHMC opened, it became the larger hospital and has continued to grow, while Highlands Regional has stayed about the same size and has been in the same building for years.
The old Walker site was still owned by the Adventists and for a time a few persons continued to work there. The Walker site was put on the market and at least two groups seriously considered buying it. Meanwhile, in fall 2004 three hurricanes ravaged Highlands County within a three-week period. The next year another hurricane passed through. The four hurricanes caused extensive damage to the Walker Memorial building and it was demolished about 2007.
When the new hospital opened, it had 109 inpatient beds. By 2001 additions had been added to the south side and FHHMC grew in bed size. Another inpatient area was constructed in 2004 and by 2011 the facility had 159 beds. Services also expanded. The emergency department has been expanded at least twice. The latest expansion, in 2011, expanded the number of private emergency patient rooms from fourteen to thirty-two. By 2012 1,200 persons were employed by all units in the area who worked for FHHMC.
About 2006 the Child Learning Center was constructed on the northwest corner of the FHHMC campus. It replaced the child care center that still existed three blocks south of the old Walker Memorial building. About 2007 a branch of the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute was opened in a new building on the southwest corner of the FHHMC campus. On July 1, 2010, this facility left the Florida Hospital system, when it became a branch of the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute. In 2009 the Heart & Vascular Center opened. The same year the Outpatient Surgery Center opened in a building on the north side of the main building.
FHHMC was struck in 2004 and 2005 by the same four hurricanes that hit the old Walker Memorial Hospital. Also, on April 1, 2009, the hospital was locked down by an anthrax scare. A man placed fifty envelopes on cars in hospital lots and thirty-one more envelopes on cars and in area mailboxes in an April Fool's Day joke. The hospital was locked down for ten hours and other area business buildings were locked down. When the envelope contents proved to be corn starch and baby powder, the hospital was taken out of lockdown. Only the perpetrator saw any humor in his prank and he ended up in jail, facing criminal charges for causing such a disruption that ill persons in the community were put at risk.
The main hospital is on a large site, so much was built at first and much has been added since 1997. In addition to the main building, the site has always had several buildings used for storage and maintenance support. Also, the hospital had two huge parking lots on its east and west ends. These have been expanded several times as the hospital has become busier.
Just to the south of the main building, a small lake existed. It was divided into two bodies of water, as an entrance road was built across it. The resulting larger lake was extensively landscaped and a large fountain was put into it. The lake has at times been home to alligators, various birds and fish and to large turtles. The smaller lake was only somewhat landscaped and is the only one where fishing is allowed. These are known as Florida Hospital lakes.
The administrator of the hospital also serves as the administrator of the Florida Hospital Heartland Division, of which FHHMC is the largest part. Hoovers says FHHMC has 1,200 employees. The HealthGrades website provides information about FHHMC's scores on twelve patient safety indicators. There are three possible ratings: better, average and worse. FHHMC's latest score was three better, seven average and two worse. FHHMC was awarded the 2012 HealthGrades Orthopedics Surgery Award. Patient satisfaction ratings for the hospital are sparse and are listed on a number of websites. However, since they are few in number and not based on objective survey questions, they tend to be anecdotal and possibly not dependable.
FHHMC has outlying physician offices and clinics in a large number of places in Sebring and Avon Park. Many of these are on Sun N' Lake Boulevard, across the street from the hospital campus. These include various administrative offices and various physician offices.
Also, on Sun N' Lake are the following:Florida Hospital Home Care Services.
FHHMC's Center for Sleep Studies. A satellite Center for Sleep Studies is located across from Florida Hospital Wauchula, being a part of that hospital.
The Therapy Center, at the corner of Sun N' Lakes Boulevard and U.S. Highway 27. Located just off the southeast corner of the FHHMC campus, the Therapy Center is home to the physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy departments. Some outlying therapy clinics were consolidated to this location. Other physician offices are located in the Therapy Center, as well.
The Center for Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine. Wound Healing has a Florida Hospital Wauchula satellite, sharing the same space as the satellite Center for Sleep Studies.
The Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center, which was once located in Heartland Medical Plaza (a block to the east of the FHHMC campus) and was later inside the main building.
The Diabetes Center.
Florida Hospital Lifeline. Florida Hospital operates this program to help persons who are at high risk of needing emergency care, but unable to a phone in case of an emergency. The Lifeline is a device worn by the person. It has a button that can be pressed in an emergency, bringing responders to the person.
FHHMC has clinics and physician offices elsewhere in Sebring and Avon Park. An outpatient laboratory is located in Heartland Medical Plaza, mentioned above. A satellite radiology Seascape Imaging building was built in south Sebring, about three blocks south of Lake Jackson. Located at 2950 State Road 17, it also houses physician offices.
The hospital has two physician buildings in Avon Park. One is the Family Practice Center, at 1006 W. Pleasant Street. Three physicians have offices there. The other is Florida Hospital Heartland Family, three blocks south of the old Walker Memorial site. Located on the west side of U.S. Highway 27, it has one physician office and a satellite outpatient laboratory.