Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida establishes center at UF to improve health of Florida's citizens

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida has established a $3.5 million endowment at the University of Florida to open the BCBSF Center for Health Care Access, Patient Safety and Quality Outcomes. The new center will be housed in the colleges of Nursing and Public Health and Health Professions and will work to significantly improve the health of Florida's citizens.

The endowment, which will total $6.7 million with state matching funds, was announced today (Jan. 25) at the Enterprise Florida board of directors meeting in Tallahassee.

"The University of Florida is grateful for the generosity of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and its dedication to improving Florida's health care," said UF President Bernie Machen. "With this new center, the state is positioned to become a national leader in health-care delivery, demonstrating that safe, high-quality care can be provided, and that health-care costs can be reduced by preventing medical errors and complications."

Through this center, UF leaders and BCBSF hope to address the unique health-care issues that affect Florida's quality of life and economic viability. Critical issues include access, the nursing shortage, patient safety and medical errors. Florida also faces unique challenges due to rapid growth, the large elderly population and the diverse and international composition of its residents.

"Florida is facing many challenges in the effort to provide safe, high-quality health care for all of our citizens," said Robert Lufrano, M.D., chairman and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

"The BCBSF-UF Center will bring together experts from a variety of disciplines at UF, including health services administration, nursing, health policy, medicine, pharmacy and sociology, to design and evaluate improved approaches to health-care access and delivery."

The center will support evidence-based research on topics such as attracting and retaining well-prepared nurses to maximize patient safety and quality care outcomes, and financing and delivering health care in a fiscally responsible manner to people who are underserved. These steps, and others, can help to prevent patient deaths and reduce suffering while also saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary health-care costs.

Workforce issues such as the escalating nursing shortage affect the quality and cost of health care. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis estimates that Florida will have a shortage of 61,000 nurses by 2020. Florida hospitals, meanwhile, spent $147 million in 2004 to fill vacant nursing positions, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

Recent reports by several national study groups, including the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, have cited the lack of safety and quality of care received in the nation's hospitals. Limited access to health care for many Floridians costs the state's hospitals $1.7 billion in uncompensated care, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

In addition to establishing the BCBSF Center, the endowment brings both the Dorothy M. Smith Professorship in the College of Nursing and the BCBSF Professorship in Health Services Administration in the College of Public Health and Health Professions to full chair status. These positions allow for the recruitment of premier faculty members in the fields of health services administration and nursing health policy to conduct research focusing on the nursing workforce, patient safety, and health-care delivery and access.

"The complexity of the health-care problems we face require interdisciplinary planning and research, and the new center will make this possible at UF," Machen said. "UF is uniquely positioned to house the BCBSF Center since it includes the state's oldest and most comprehensive health science center with an array of experts in health care policy and research. The BCBSF gift is a significant step that will help Florida become a national leader in anticipating future challenges and developing solutions."