Improving Brevard

Brevard Hospital in 1930

What began as a simple idea has sparked the desire to become the best in the nation regarding the path to improving a community’s health. More than 80 years ago, a small group of dedicated citizens ignited a phenomenon with the modest idea to make health care local and founded Brevard’s first hospital in Melbourne, Florida. With turbulent fluctuations in regulations, the economy and the political landscape, one commitment has remained – Brevard deserves an organization committed to
putting our health first.

Brevard County’s own success story began in the 1930s, when Brevard Hospital – now Holmes Regional Medical Center – opened on U.S. 1 with 27 beds. A little over 30 years later, in response to the emerging space industry, another group of caring residents had the courage to develop Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach. And as the city of Palm Bay grew, the needs of the community were met with the establishment of Palm Bay Hospital in 1992.

This visionary leadership created the basis for a national success story in 1995, when Brevard County joined these three hospitals together and welcomed Health First. On this foundation, bricks were laid to create a network of providers, hospitals and outpatient services that allow us to get the care we deserve, right here at home. But what makes this journey unique is the daring decision to create Brevard’s only locally-owned health plan.

In 1996, the leaders of Health First took a giant leap to provide affordable health insurance options for their families, friends and neighbors by launching Health First Health Plans to meet the needs of our growing community. This single decision – and the courage to remain committed to providing health insurance options, is the foundation to this success story when other national U.S. health systems failed – is why Brevard has earned national recognition for providing health and wellness services. Integrating all of Brevard with a sole purpose of improving health, Health First is more than bricks and mortar. It is more than gurneys and syringes. It is more than bench press machines and treadmills.

Fulfilling the sacred trust between providers and patients for more than eight decades, Health First continues its commitment to Brevard. Health First is Brevard’s hometown, not-for-profit, Integrated Delivery Network (IDN).


Health First Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Drew Rector.

“The part of the story many Space Coast residents don’t realize is that Health First’s not-for-profit status enables it to invest back into the community, rather than paying dividends to Wall Street shareholders, as is the case with for-profit hospitals,” observed Drew Rector, Executive Vice President and Health First’s Chief Strategy Officer. “Last year alone, we invested more than $158 million in mission-driven community benefits, including vital care programs like Bright Star.”

Sitting in the Health First Bright Star community room, Rector explained that this program is one shining example of how Health First gives back to the community. Illness and death are a part of life, and so is the grieving process that allows one to move toward hope, healing and renewal. But for a child who has lost a loved one, the road can be filled with a silent pain that others may forget. Commonly called “silent grievers,” children deal with the loss of a loved one in a unique way, and their path toward healing is different than adults. Bright Star is partially funded through the Health First Foundation and is a specialized children’s program for grief and loss that encourages the expression of grief through creative, positive play within a peer group setting.

“In the last five years, the charitable investment Health First has made to Brevard reached more than $637 million. That’s an astonishing number, even when you compare it to some of the largest healthcare systems in the country,” Rector said. “In our economy, there are those with great needs who simply cannot afford care. Most of those dollars go to provide care for uninsured or under-insured residents who come to our hospitals and clinics.” He continued to explain that Health First’s charitable investment includes providing a wide range of educational and training programs like its “Stop the Bleed” and CPR training programs.

As impressive and impactful as these statistics are, the bigger story may be that Health First is the largest private employer in the county, with more than 8,800 associates with an average salary of $59,810. In order to attract and retain the talent that keeps it in the top tier nationally, its employees have enjoyed cumulative 22.7 percent average pay increases over the last five years – during a time when wages and benefits were being drastically cut in most sectors. Few industries are as competitive for talent as health care, and since 2012, Health First has added more than 2,000 jobs, an increase of 25 percent.

“In our highly mobile and interlinked world, we must compete nationally to maintain the caliber of clinicians, associates and management professionals we need to serve this community,” explained Rector. “To do that, the compensation for every position, from a nurse to customer service representative to pharmacist, is compared against equivalent positions in other parts of the country. This parity enables us to leverage our other community assets in attracting the talent, which, in turn, means residents never have to leave Brevard to get the quality care they’ve come to expect.”


Bright Star is a specialized children’s program for grief and loss that encourages the expression of grief through creative, positive play within a peer group setting.

As the county has grown, Health First has continued to grow and meet Brevard’s needs. Today, this distinctively Brevard IDN has become one of the primary economic development drivers in the region. Companies and individuals look at quality of life, infrastructure and educational systems when making their location decisions. However, in that continuum of selection, one of the first considerations is an area’s healthcare system. With an investment of more than $366 million in capital investments in just the last five years – while attracting best- in-class clinicians and associates – Health First has been able to repeatedly tip the scale in Brevard’s favor.

One current challenge, which is a cornerstone to exceptional care, is nursing. It is a profession currently facing national shortages. Recognizing the great competition in recruiting nursing talent, Health First and the Health First Foundation took the revolutionary step of providing scholarships for current employees who aspire to become registered nurses. In a strategic partnership with Eastern Florida State College and University of Central Florida’s College of Nursing, candidates who are already integrated into the Health First culture and therefore have pre-existing ties to the community are empowered to advance their careers while also meeting a critical need in the local healthcare continuum.

The size of Health First and its mission to invest its funds locally have led to the deployment of specialists and technologies that residents in many other areas may have to go to a university center to access. This includes Health First’s robotics and minimally invasive offerings, which now feature daVinci Robotic-Assisted Surgery and MAKOplasty surgical devices.

A true testament of Brevard County is how the community continues to show their support. Through the Health FirstFoundation, Brevard residents have proven their commitment to Health First’s desire to keep health care local by nancially supporting programs and services. For example, donations provided to the Foundation brought 3D mammography to Brevard County. This service offers a 41 percent higher detection rate and reduces false positives by 40 percent, signi cantly reducing the need for callbacks for abnormal mammograms. Together, Health First and Brevard residents save lives.


According to Rector, who oversees Health First Health Plans, a lot of the company’s success in expanding offerings and opportunities to Space Coast residents is because of the Health Plans’ growth.

“In 2012, we had 62,751 members, and by September 2016 we had 150,809 members,” he explained. “In an Integrated Delivery Network like Health First, we promote the health of our members first, whereas a traditional hospital system is only able to be on the treatment side – they’re essentially what you could describe as ‘sick care,’ not ‘health care.’ ”

Rector went on to explain that as an organization, Health First works to manage first-dollar risk, which ensures consumers are given the simplest and best options to stay as healthy as possible.

“This streamlining is designed to assure consumers,” according to Rector. “Get the right care, at the right place and at the right time.”

For instance, providing conveniently located urgent care centers that provide fast service throughout the county produces a better customer experience. These facilities also keep emergency rooms from being flooded with non-emergency patients, such as those with sore throats or minor injuries. When that happens, hospital emergency departments are able to focus more on those who need critical care, including heart attack or motor vehicle accident victims.

“Everything Health First does is to make Brevard healthy and to make health care more consumer-friendly and cost-effective. This results in us being able to invest our savings back into the community, specifically by providing easy access and the most critical and sophisticated cutting-edge clinicians, staff and services. Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of our families, friends and neighbors, and to ensure no one has to leave home to get world-class medical care,” Rector concluded.

One thing is clear: Health First is Brevard. Stronger today than it was 80 years ago, the idea to make health care local is the continuing commitment of Health First. The associates are our families and friends, who live and worship alongside us every day. Their commitment stretches beyond the words outlined in their mission and vision statements and are the guiding principle on which all decisions are made. Health First will improve the health and well-being of our community. Every person, every time. ◆