As associate chief legal officer at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, David Evans works primarily behind the scenes. And he prefers it that way, long intrigued by lawyers’ abilities to help clinicians navigate sticky regulatory processes. But the impact of his work—and the impact of the organization—is far from out of sight. As one of the largest public health systems in Florida, Sarasota feels an imperative to serve the community and make its hospitals the “best places” they can possibly be.
A Florida native, Evans fell in love with the day-to-day operational counsel role of a hospital lawyer after graduating from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law. “Hospitals and health systems have such a breadth of issues that you can be called on to deal with on any given day,” Evans says. “It’s incredibly stimulating.”
And at Sarasota, a system known throughout the area for its top-quality care and services, Evans doesn’t have to look far for excitement. “Part of our mission is about striving to be the best place for patients,” Evans says. To play his part in that mission, Evans has enrolled in a Master of Health Services and Administration (MHSA) program, where he learns alongside clinicians, social workers, psychiatrists and mental health professionals, and even members of the insurance industry.
But because Sarasota is a public health system, Evans explains, being the “best place for patients” means far more than enrolling in new programs and employing leading-edge technologies. It means engaging with the community on a fundamental level.
“Public hospitals have different responsibilities to the community—they are called on to create arrangements with local safety net organizations,” Evans says. And Sarasota Memorial in particular is focused on creating strong community partnerships with local stakeholders, he emphasizes. “We work a lot with local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies serving the health of the community so that we are really looking at and dealing with the various social determinants of health.”
Because of this community focus, the care provided by a public hospital like Sarasota cannot simply be the care provided within the four walls of the building. “It’s where patients go, and what they deal with after they leave the hospital,” Evans says, “or where they’ve been and what they’ve gone through before they come here. The hospital has had a strategic focus on those transitions of care in and out of our hospital.”
“That is really the joy of being in-house counsel at a public hospital system, to have that day-to-day impact.”
One of Sarasota’s most impactful initiatives, according to Evans, is an initiative called the First 1,000 Days. “It’s a really unique opportunity to help get treatment to women and pediatric patients,” he offers. “We’ve joined with sixty community partners to provide families with both prenatal and infant care, and our legal team has been intimately involved in that—taking an idea that everyone loves and formalizing it into a legal arrangement where it can be elastic and compliant.
“That is really the joy of being in-house counsel at a public hospital system,” Evans remarks, “to have that day-to-day impact and be part of a team that can help make those types of arrangements, which are so different than the normal contracts that hospital in-house counsel are usually involved in.”
To help sustain and build on such arrangements, Evans encourages his team to maintain an awareness of the bigger picture beyond the legal requirements. “You have to be aware of what local stakeholders are willing and able to participate in regarding the treatment of patients in our community,” he says. “That has to happen before you can take any idea and memorialize it in a written agreement that is executable and operational for everyone.”
Evans’s stakeholders commend his consideration and approach to partnerships. “David is working hard to develop an excellent working relationship between the stakeholders at SMH, in-house counsel, and outside counsel,” says E. Zachary Rans, managing partner at Sarasota Shutts & Bowen office. “He has taken great care to communicate to the stakeholders the need for, and benefits of, legal input and has taken equally great care to make sure that legal effectively works with the stakeholders to understand and meet their needs. His sensitive and proactive approach is fostering relationships of trust and respect between all involved to the benefit of the Hospital.”
Evans himself has been recently appointed to the county’s advisory board, in which capacity he is heavily involved in the local continuum of care program, supported by Suncoast. “The program really tries to tackle homelessness in our area—the homeless population here is staggering, and we as a community haven’t done enough yet,” Evans says. “They reached out to me in part because I’ve helped navigate some of the issues facing homeless patients.
“I’ve made sure they’re able to get treated, particularly when they’re minors, and that they’re able to get medical information and find follow-up care,” he continues. “Because I’m able to sit down and have face-to-face conversations with clinicians and healthcare service leaders, I’m better able to find ways to tackle these kinds of issues.”
And as Sarasota expands its footprint, Evans and other leaders at the hospital are striving to ensure that it remains the “best place” for patients throughout the community. “It’s a great time to be a part of what Sarasota is doing here,” says the associate legal officer. “Every day, we’re helping real people. And now we’re building on that foundation, growing our services while maintaining—or increasing—our quality.”
PKF congratulates David Evans on this well-deserved recognition. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with him and many of his colleagues at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.