FORECAST: AdventHealth makes progress in the Winter Garden community

Notable recent developments at AdventHealth Winter Garden include the upcoming opening of the inpatient tower, new services being offered and new leadership.

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Adaptation, education, growth, perseverance.

These four words were used consistently by President and CEO of AdventHealth Winter Garden Kari Vargas when describing the health care organization’s experience throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

During the COVID-19 Delta surge, in the AdventHealth Central Florida Division alone, which includes Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake, Polk, Volusia and Flagler counties, the organization had more than 1,600 patients.

“We tried to be the trusted source to our community when it had questions,” Vargas said of AdventHealth. “As we learned more and more, we wanted to share that information with our loved ones and extended family in the community.”

Now, despite all odds, the health care giant is making progress and distinctive developments in West Orange.

Perhaps some of the most notable recent developments at AdventHealth Winter Garden are the upcoming opening of the inpatient tower; the new services being offered, including advanced gynecology, cardiology, gastroenterology and general surgery; AdventHealth and the city of Winter Garden partnering to build a holistic health and wellness campus at Tucker Ranch; and the new leadership at the location.


In April 2021, the location announced the city was one big step closer to having a full-service hospital, with the celebration of a major construction milestone for AdventHealth’s inpatient tower, which broke ground in 2019.

Team members from the health center and general contractor Brasfield and Gorrie marked the “topping out” of the building with a special ceremony at the Winter Garden campus.

The centuries-old “topping out” tradition involves hoisting a beam topped by a tree to the top of the structure.

The organization said in this case, the beam was covered in hundreds of digital signatures from members of the community, and an orange tree was used to honor the area’s agricultural heritage.

The tree symbolizes growth and is meant to bring good luck to the building.

“The tower is there to complement the existing services we already have,” Vargas said. “It will be a full-service community hospital. We want people to be able to receive their trusted AdventHealth care close to home.”

At completion, the five-story tower will have 80 beds. The tower will measure about 227,000 square feet and will include more than 15,500 cubic yards of concrete, enough to build a new 18-mile, two-lane road from AdventHealth Winter Garden to AdventHealth Orlando. It will contain more than 1,750 tons of structural and reinforcing steel, comparable to the weight of 21 space shuttles.

Vargas said the organization designed the building with the patient at the center of their thinking.

The project will generate about 400 construction jobs. When complete, it will bring 400 medical and support jobs to the community.

The inpatient tower is expected to reach completion this spring.


A big part of the anticipated inpatient tower is the multitude of new services that will be offered.

The new services include advanced gynecology, cardiology, gastroenterology, general surgery, neurology, spine health and urology.

“Providing care in a convenient location close to home is a key part of our mission,”said Dr. Omayra Mansfield, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Winter Garden. “We know that the presence and emotional support of loved ones during a hospital stay helps the healing process.”

The newest service that has joined is the orthopedic line with Rothman Orthopaedics which would have a permanent office in Winter Garden by summer 2022. 

On Feb. 23, 2021, AdventHealth broke ground on a new state-of-the-art health care center in Orlando. The center will bring a range of new and expanded services to the region.

The long-term partnership with AdventHealth and Philadelphia-based Rothman Orthopaedic Institute was announced in 2020. The partnership aims to bring world-renowned sub-specialized care to Central Florida.

According to AdventHealth, the tower will serve as Rothman Orthopaedics Central Florida headquarters and will be utilized clinically for a sub-specialized practice, as well as research and academics.

The building also will include space for other AdventHealth services, including neuroscience, imaging, rehabilitation and research, offering comprehensive outpatient care all in one location.

Located next to Interstate 4, just north of the Princeton Street exit, the 12-story and 300,000-square-foot building will be a major addition to the city skyline when it opens in late 2022.

“This project will have a big economic impact, both in construction jobs and in bringing more high-paying medical jobs to downtown Orlando,”said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in a press release. “And it reinforces Central Florida’s reputation as a burgeoning hub in life science innovation.”


Over the next five years, Tucker Ranch will become an integrated health and wellness campus focused on improving residents’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

The ranch, a sprawling 209-acre park along Tilden Road that was once a working cattle ranch, will feature a 5,000-square-foot retreat center, teaching and working farm, outdoor demonstration kitchen, greenhouse, gardens, trails, outdoor fitness, and recreational areas.

The campus, expected to reach completion by 2023, will run with the help of local health care organizations who will guide and contribute to the programming, including AdventHealth.

“This project will transform the West Orange community by providing a regional asset dedicated to state-of-the-art health and wellness, all within a natural setting that gives visitors the chance to reconnect with nature,” former Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. “This will be a world-class facility and a model for holistic health and wellness.”


AdventHealth began its principles for caring for the “whole person” more than 150 years ago with the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“I’m very connected to our mission in extending the healing ministry of Christ,” Vargas said. “AdventHealth values and my personal values are aligned. I met my husband here at AdventHealth, we had our children here at AdventHealth, so for me, this is my family, and I am proud of how that then translates into our community.”

Vargas has lived in West Orange County since the mid-1980s and attended Dr. Phillips High School and then the University of Central Florida and Rollins College.

In her graduate program at Rollins, Vargas served as an intern for AdventHealth for two years before joining the team upon graduation.

On Jan. 8, 2021, she was named president and CEO for the AdventHealth Winter Garden location and CEO for the West Orange and South Lake market located in AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division.

“For me, this is my home,” Vargas said. “It’s where my family lives and where I grew up. I’m very connected to this community, and it’s close to my heart. I feel honored as I think about the work that I lead to help serve and support this community.”

Prior to this role, Vargas served as vice president and chief operating officer of AdventHealth Orlando, the largest hospital in AdventHealth’s multi-state network.

Vargas joined AdventHealth, formerly Florida Hospital, in 2000 and has held multiple positions over her tenure, including marketing and business development, service line strategy, and hospital operations.

One of her recent accomplishments was leading the strategy and facility development of AdventHealth for Women, a 330-bed patient tower.

“I’m proud of what we do and how we care for the whole person, mind, body and spirit, and we do that in the way that Christ would have done it,” Vargas said. “I’ve never felt like I had to compromise my values, because they’re so aligned with this organization, and you truly see and feel that when you come into this establishment.”

Dr. Miles Bennett, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Winter Garden and Clermont, also recently joined the leadership team.

Bennett joined the Advent Health West Orange team in July 2011 as an emergency medicine physician at Apopka and later became the ED medical director.

“I love working at AdventHealth Winter Garden because we treat the whole patient — mind, body and spirit,” Bennett said. “We have the most compassionate team that puts the patient first, always.”

Shannon Zlajic was appointed chief nursing officer of AdventHealth Winter Garden and Clermont in September 2021.

She joined AdventHealth in 2018 as an executive director of nursing, a role in which she led the inpatient cardiovascular units, which include more than 300 beds and a team of 850.

Zlajic was instrumental in building and launching three new units for advanced cardiovascular and transplant patients.

“I love working at AdventHealth Winter Garden, because of the team members and patients we are blessed to serve,” Zlajic said. “When patients come into our doors, they can trust that we are providing world-class, whole-person care. Our team (comprises) dedicated and compassionate individuals who care deeply about each other and the communities we serve. To me, AdventHealth Winter Garden is family.”

Josie Zarate also recently became chief financial officer for AdventHealth West Orange and South Lake markets.

Zarate has been part of AdventHealth for more than 25 years.

She started her career with Florida Hospital shortly after graduating high school in 1995, when she took on a part-time role with Patient Financial Services.

Since then, she has served AdventHealth as lead financial analyst, revenue and finance manager, and later, director of finance at the Apopka and Winter Park campuses. She further went on to serve as executive director of finance at the Orlando campus before accepting her most recent role.

“I love the mission of AdventHealth and the leaders that I have been honored to work alongside, and I’m excited to see where the Lord leads my path,” Zarate said.

Vargas said the diverse group of individuals and backgrounds that the leadership team has make her excited for the future.

“We want to make this a healthier place for all of us so that in 10 years we can say we contributed to this West Orange community,” Vargas said. “That is our goal, our focus and our vision, which goes back to our core mission, and to feel that not mission only in the walls of a hospital but out on the streets.”

The middle of December marked the first time the Winter Garden campus came together in-person since the beginning of the pandemic. The organization held an employee town hall and holiday celebration.

“For us and for me, it’s not just about how we deliver care in our facilities, it’s how do we create healthier communities,” Vargas said. “We look forward to doing just that.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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