Gastro Health Announces Agreement to Acquire South Florida Gastroenterology Associates


Acquisition Will Add 15 Physicians and Seven Offices in Palm Beach County

(MIAMI, APRIL 24, 2018) — Gastro Health, LLC (“Gastro Health”), one of the nation’s fastest-growing gastroenterology groups, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire South Florida Gastroenterology Associates, P.A. (“SFGA”), a premier 15-physician practice specializing in state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic digestive health services. Gastro Health will more than double its physical footprint in Palm Beach County with the addition of the group, establishing new locations in Boynton Beach, Jupiter, and Lake Worth and adding to its current locations in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Wellington. The announcement marks another significant milestone in Gastro Health’s growth trajectory and its commitment to expansion in the region and nationally. With this acquisition, Gastro Health’s physician headcount will grow to 110 physicians across 46 offices in Florida.

“Patient needs continue to drive our growth and we are thrilled to partner with SFGA. SFGA is a quality group of providers that truly cares about the patient experience,” said Gastro Health CEO, Joseph M. Garcia. “Together, we will continue to fortify our position in Florida.”

SFGA physicians and allied health professionals bring significant experience in gastroenterology and hepatology, providing management and treatment of a wide range of diseases and disorders. With offices throughout Palm Beach County and more than 20 years of practice in the region, the addition of their practices will:

  • Reinforce Gastro Health’s position as one of the fastest-growing and most prestigious medical groups in Florida that will include 110 physicians across 46 offices
  • Expand Gastro Health’s presence throughout Florida, including two new ambulatory surgical center facilities in Palm Beach County
  • Build on Gastro Health’s comprehensive services for patients in need of high-quality care and procedures such as colonoscopies and endoscopies
  • Provide added convenience for patients across Palm Beach County with more opportunities to access expert physicians close to home

The professionals who will join from SFGA include 14 gastroenterologists, one anesthesiologist, three nurse practitioners, one physician’s assistant and one certified registered nurse anesthetist. Among them are the current and former Chairmen of Medicine at Bethesda Hospital, former Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at JFK Medical Center and a former Chief of Internal Medicine, Chief of Gastroenterology, and Chairman of the Governing Board at Delray Medical Center.

“We at South Florida Gastroenterology Associates are very excited to be partnering with Gastro Health, a leader in the gastroenterology industry. We will now be able to offer a wider spectrum of services in more convenient locations to our patients. Therefore, our patients will be the primary beneficiaries of this partnership,” said Dr. Hillel D. Cohen.

This expansion is part of Gastro Health’s growth strategy to meet increasing demand in markets across Florida and nationally. The SFGA addition builds on the growth Gastro Health experienced in 2017. With this acquisition, Gastro Health’s team will grow to more than 185 gastroenterologists and health professionals. In addition to these expansions, Gastro Health actively recruits and attracts physicians from across the United States who are experts in the field of gastroenterology.

“The entire SFGA family is eager and excited about uniting with Gastro Health, a premier group in the field of gastroenterology. Their mission, like ours, is to provide outstanding medical care and an exceptional healthcare experience. “ said Dr. Joshua Stern.

About Gastro Health

Gastro Health is one of the fastest-growing gastroenterology groups in the United States. With a focus on patient experience, its nearly 100 board-certified physicians collaborate with allied health professionals to deliver exceptional gastrointestinal care across an integrated network of 30+ locations. Gastro Health’s expert care teams utilize technology, clinical expertise and compassionate care to provide a personalized approach to digestive health and overall wellness. Learn more at

Media Contact

Frank Manes, Vice President of Business Development

Gastro Health acquires Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida

Gastro Health acquires Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida

Gastro Health acquires Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches

(Miami, Florida – October 6, 2017) – Gastro Health, LLC has acquired the practice of Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches specializing in colon cancer screening and gastroenterology. The acquisition marks Gastro Health’s fourth office in Palm Beach County and sets the bar even higher, as the company grows in new geographic markets and is poised for tremendous growth throughout the state, and the country. Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches currently serves patients in three locations within Palm Beach, Florida: 1117 N. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, FL, 3375 Burns Road, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, and 12957 Palms West Drive, Loxahatchee, FL.

The practice is comprised of four physicians, as well as one nurse practitioner. The office will become Gastro Health’s 29th location. Led by Jeffrey S. Wenger, M.D., providers for this practice include Sidney Neimark, M.D., F.A.C.P., Salvatore Senzatimore Jr., M.D., and Elliot Ellis, M.D., F.A.C.P. All four physicians have had board certifications with the American Board of Internal Medicine as well as the ABIM/Gastroenterology and many hold privileges at the hospitals in the area, such as Good Samaritan, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, and St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches Health will continue to provide high quality outpatient consultative care for the broad range of digestive diseases and conditions as well as procedures such as colonoscopies and upper GI Balloon endoscopies in our convenient outpatient endoscopy center.

“Having the talented doctors from Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches join the Gastro Health family is yet another accomplishment we are very proud of,” said Gastro Health CEO, Alejandro Fernandez.  “This is our fourth acquisition in the Palm Beach area and is just the beginning for Gastro Health’s continuous growth.”

“At Digestive Center of the Palm Beaches, it is important to us that the patients receive excellent medical care as well as, a great overall experience,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Wenger. “By becoming part of Gastro Health, one of the most recognized and fastest growing gastroenterology groups in the country, our patients will now benefit from the additional resources we will be able to provide.”

By joining Gastro Health, the group will be able to offer even more patients the safe and affordable gastrointestinal care they need. All of Gastro Health’s care centers are equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology to ensure the best outcomes possible for each individual patient as well as an in-house pharmacy which can dispense medications at a fraction of the cost.

Gastro Health Welcomes Robert Kaplan, MD

Gastro Health Welcomes Robert Kaplan, MD(Miami, Florida – October 25, 2017 – Gastro Health is pleased to announce that Robert Kaplan, MD, has joined their medical group and will be seeing patients at their new Coral Springs Center located at 939 University Drive, Coral Springs, FL 33071

“I am very excited to welcome Dr. Kaplan,” said Gastro Health CEO, Alejandro Fernandez. “He provides a great blend of top-notch clinical education and knowledge along with a strong passion for providing devoted care. We understand that our community counts on Gastro Health to provide outstanding GI care, so we trust that Dr. Kaplan will be an outstanding addition to our practice.”

Dr. Kaplan completed his Doctor of Medicine, internship and residency at Weill Cornell University Medical College in New York, NY.  As a gastroenterologist, his areas of focus include therapeutic endoscopy of biliary tract disease and nonsurgical therapy for hemorrhoidal disease. Moreover, with over 30 years of practice experience, his impressive curriculum vitae emphasizes his commitment to his patients’ basic and advanced needs.

“I work for our patients to provide the highest quality medical care in a nurturing environment. My secret for caring for my patients is caring about my patients,” says Kaplan.

By joining Gastro Health’s network, Dr. Kaplan will provide even more patients with the safe and affordable gastrointestinal care they need. Dr. Kaplan joins a wide range of Gastro Health’s care centers that are equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology to ensure the best outcomes possible for each individual patient as well Caring for You and Those You Love.

Gastro Health welcomes Simon Frisch as new Vice President of Operations

Gastro Health welcomes Simon Frisch as new Vice President of Operations(Miami, Florida – October 4, 2017 – Gastro Health is pleased to announce and welcome Simon Frisch, MBA as its new Vice President of Operations. In this role, Frisch will report to the CEO and oversee the operational strategy and execution for the company.  This includes operating, growing and optimizing Gastro Health Care Centers, markets, and affiliated Ancillary Services (imaging, infusion, ambulatory surgery centers, anesthesia, and pathology) to deliver on the Gastro Health mission to provide outstanding medical care and an exceptional healthcare experience.

“I am honored to move into this newly-created leadership position at Gastro Health,” said Frisch. “I am excited and grateful to join the physicians and leadership team at Gastro Health as together we build the best-in-class, national gastroenterology platform.”

Frisch is a seasoned health care entrepreneur and business leader with over 20 years of diverse industry and functional experience.  He has served in leadership positions with prominent national medical groups, health solutions providers, and management consultant firms.  Frisch brings to Gastro Health a wealth of practical experience growing and leading multi-site healthcare operations in collaboration with physicians, hospital partners, and team members.  Frisch joins Gastro Health from MEDNAX, a national healthcare solutions provider, where he served for over 10 years in progressive leadership roles, most recently as Director of Operations for MEDNAX’s Florida-based businesses.  Frisch also honed his strategic and analytical skills as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, Johnson & Johnson and Deloitte Consulting.

“We are very pleased to welcome Simon to the Gastro Health team,” said Alejandro Fernandez, Gastro Health Chief Executive Officer. “He brings a wealth of experience and vision which will build upon the progress we’ve made toward optimizing our operations. Simon will be an integral part of our team as we continue to expand throughout Florida, and the rest of the country.”

Frisch earned an MBA in Marketing and Operations Management from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.  He also holds a Bachelor’s in Plan II Honors (liberal arts honors program) from the University of Texas at Austin.

Beckersasc: Surviving and thriving through healthcare reform — Gastro Health’s Dr. James Leavitt on consolidating markets

Beckersasc: Surviving and thriving through healthcare reform — Gastro Health’s Dr. James Leavitt on consolidating marketsMiami-based Gastro Health has been able to expand over the past 11 years due to its willingness to adapt, especially as new legislation continually comes into the mix. Founded in 2006, Gastro Health is Florida’s largest gastroenterology provider, with a network of more than 90 physicians staffing 27 Florida locations.

James Leavitt, MD, president of Gastro Health, shared his thoughts on the evolving legislative environment and the company’s rapid expansion, through acquisitions, recruitment of talented physicians, organic growth and new business development deals.

Already taxed by the demands of their caseloads, small practices may struggle to compete in the move toward value-based reimbursement. The enormous amount of legwork and resources required to meet the many reporting requirements at play is the biggest challenge in small gastroenterology practices face, according to Dr. Leavitt.

“How can groups of five or less gastroenterologists, afford the resources, time and professional management needed to meet all those [reporting] requirements?” says Dr. Leavitt.

Value-based care reporting requirements are going to be a part of the healthcare landscape for the near future. And, to “survive and thrive in this regulatory environment,” Dr. Leavitt believes the market needs to go through a consolidation period.

GI groups act as if they are in competition with each other. However, in general, Dr. Leavitt said practices are all so busy that if the competing group disappeared, the remaining group would not have the resources to take over the new patient load without hiring a similar number of care providers.

Therefore, he says practices have to understand who the real competition is and band together through consolidation thus combining a number of groups into a single more effective coherent whole.

A large part of Gastro Health’s business model is tied to acquisitions, partly because of Gastro Health’s private equity firm partner. However, a strategy focused on acquisition is also a way to adapt to the market.

Gastro Health purchases and takes over management of gastroenterology practices and provides the necessary infrastructure to survive in the value based healthcare environment of the future. This strategy increases Gastro Health’s negotiating influence with health insurance companies and maintains reasonable reimbursement rates. It also allows practices to continue serving their patients without making additional costly investments into infrastructure, thus keeping the cost of care delivery in check.

Before Gastro Health associated with its private equity partner, the company was growing, doubling its profile after five years. After Gastro Health brought in the private equity partner, Gastro Health doubled its portfolio again within the first year and is still expanding through both acquisitions and organic growth.

“With the backing of an equity partner, we are able to merge practices under the Gastro Health name,” Dr. Leavitt says. “They don’t have to spend money to join us. We buy them. … [then] we use the increased revenue created by the acquisition to fund the growth of the company and provide better overall patient care.”

With the revenue, Gastro Health can add more physicians and make necessary infrastructure investments to handle the growth. Gastro Health acquired its most recent location in August 2017, and Dr. Leavitt says it’s not stopping there.

Private equity investors have been following the consolidation trend for years and are recognizing an opportunity to affect consolidation and deliver many of the benefits of scale to the independent physician market.

The administrative resources of a large group could become a valuable asset with ability to attract outside investment and participate in capital markets.

For many high quality physician groups today, that arm of the business simply represents a necessary expense. Management service organizations take the administrative capabilities and turn them into a highly valuable company.

By affiliating with a management service organization, in addition to an ongoing earnings stream, a partner physician can receive a multiple of the practice’s future earnings upfront at the time the relationship is formed.

In this way, physicians can treat their practices as more than just an ATM. They can be part of a structure that creates real value and equity above and beyond the revenue they withdraw as salary from the practice.

Gastro Health has been so successful because it’s been able to narrow the market. Instead of creating partnerships, Gastro Health’s private equity partner gives Dr. Leavitt the power to purchase practices, supplement the practices with needed infrastructure and together they both flourish.

Miami Herald: How a scrawny girl conquered her Crohn’s disease and now runs half marathons

At age 16, Esther Hirsch wasn’t developing as fast as other girls her age.

“I was 90 pounds,” Hirsch said. “I was skin and bones.”

At age 12, she was diagnosed with a growth deficiency and prescribed medication. But her symptoms persisted. She had a loss of appetite, couldn’t gain weight and suffered from diarrhea.

Originally from Honduras, Hirsch was previously diagnosed with gastritis, stress and bulimia. She began visiting medical centers in Houston and Miami to seek treatment.

“It was tiring, emotionally and physically,” Hirsch said. “I was missing school going to the hospital. I was missing out on things girls my age do. It was a tough journey.”

Her journey became easier after Dr. Jesse Reeves-Garcia, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Gastro Health Pediatrics, diagnosed her with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by symptoms that include abdominal pain, weight loss and diarrhea.

An estimated 1.3 percent or 3 million U.S. adults reported being diagnosed with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis in 2015, a large increase from 1999 when 0.9 percent or 2 million adults were diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people are diagnosed after age 15. IBD can be diagnosed at a younger age, although it is rare in children younger than 8, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

After an initial steroid treatment, Hirsch was placed on Remicade, a biological therapy used to treat moderate to severe Crohn’s in children and adults. Administered through infusion, Hirsch undergoes the outpatient procedure every 8-10 weeks.

“A common form of treatment is biological therapy, which stops inflammation before it starts destroying tissue,” Reeves-Garcia said. “The gut is a tube and inflammation is just like rust in a pipe. It can cause leaks, causing infectious pockets of pus in the body and leaking into the abdomen.’’

Hirsch saw immediate results. Her symptoms went into remission. She gained an appetite and 20 pounds in one month.

“I was finally happy with my weight,” Hirsch said. “The cook ran away from me because she said I was going to eat her next.”

She also began modeling, which she continued until college, and was featured on the cover of a publication in Honduras.

“I was looking and feeling better,” Hirsch said. “I no longer looked sick and unhealthy.”

With sustained remission, children are able to participate in any activities they choose, said Dr. Alisa Muniz Crim, pediatric gastroenterologist and medical director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

“Most patients are able to go to work, school and other activities,” Muniz Crim said. “They can live a normal life with medical management.”

The causes of Crohn’s disease are not well understood, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Diet and stress may aggravate the condition, but do not cause the disease.

Most patients have minimal diet modifications such as avoiding fast and processed foods, Muniz Crim said. Some patients have stricter diet restrictions such as liquid or specific carb diets. Diet modifications can help reduce inflammation.

Hirsch said she avoids things that upset her stomach like alcohol, greens, granola, fried foods and coffee.

Hereditary, genetics and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of the disease, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Studies have shown that 5 to 20 percent of affected individuals have a first-degree relative such as a parent, child or sibling with one of the diseases. The risk is greater for Crohn’s than ulcerative colitis.

Physicians should be aware of family history so they can watch for symptoms, including short stature, abdominal pain and weight loss. Children should be examined yearly by a pediatrician, said Dr. Edgardo D. Rivera-Rivera, pediatric gastroenterology expert with UHealth — the University of Miami Health System.

“We help them go through the hurdles,” Rivera-Rivera said. “We teach them how to fish so they can sustain themselves and give them the resources to be successful.”

Now 25, Hirsch is treated by an adult gastroenterologist in Dallas, where she has lived for the past seven years. In May, she graduated with a master’s of science in management from Southern Methodist University.

She started a mentorship program at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, and she runs four or five times weekly. She has run in three half marathons in Austin, Woodlands and Dallas.

“There have been ups and downs along the way, but since I was 16, I’ve been living a healthy life,” Hirsch said.

Although Reeves-Garcia is no longer her physician, they still keep in touch through texts and Facebook.

“He is more than a doctor,” Hirsch said. “He is a father figure.”

Reeves-Garcia returns her sentiment.

“I watched a skinny little girl turn into a beautiful, articulate model,” Reeves-Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Hirsch is pleasantly surprised by an ongoing problem.

“Can you believe I have to watch what I eat?” Hirsch said.