Not all public hospitals are the same.
That was the message delivered Wednesday by Munroe Regional Medical Center President/CEO Steve Purves when he appeared in Tallahassee before Florida Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospital Districts. The commission was created by Gov. Rick Scott in March to look at Florida's 30 public hospital districts — including the Marion County Hospital District that owns Munroe — to see if they are adequately serving the poor and whether or not they are using tax dollars largely for patient care or for other non-medical purposes instead.
Scott, the former CEO of privately run hospital giant HCA, did not hide his disdain for public hospitals in his executive order creating the commission, suggesting clearly that tax-supported hospitals operate at a distinct advantage over for-profit hospitals because of their tax-exempt status and the added Medicaid support they earn as safety net hospitals.
So it was fitting that Purves, whose hospital currently receives no dedicated tax support, was the first hospital executive in the state to request a chance to speak directly to the commission. It was a wise bit of strategy, and one that shows confidence on the part of Munroe's administration and oversight boards in their management approach.
Purves told the commission that in addition to Munroe not having received any tax support for nearly a generation, it handles 70 percent of the indigent care cases in Ocala/Marion County, provides 4 percent of the county's employment and has an annual economic impact on the community of some $1 billion. He told the Star-Banner he felt like Scott's charge to the commission did not take such benefits into consideration.
"You can't ignore the community benefit Munroe provides," Purves told the Star-Banner. "And none of that was mentioned (in the commission's survey of how Munroe and the other hospital districts). I want them not to broadbrush their conclusions about hospital districts."
The Munroe message, from all accounts, was well received by commissioners, including Ocala's representative on the 10-member commission, Brad Dinkins. Dinkins has been a vocal opponent of any tax to support Munroe, but on Wednesday only had glowing remarks for the award-winning community hospital as a health care facility and a community asset.
Purves' presentation was both bold and necessary. He is right: All taxpayer-owned hospital districts are not alike. To the contrary, almost all are run differently. There is no common legislation or regulations guiding their operations.
But if any public hospital in the state has a positive message to share, it is Munroe. Besides being one of the nation's best hospitals and one of the state's most affordable, it has managed to tend to an increasing number of poor and uninsured patients without recording large losses — although those days may be numbered as health care costs rise along with the number of people unable to pay them.
The hospital study commission is supposed to finish its work by year's end. If Scott has his way, the commission would diminish, even abolish, public hospitals in Florida unless those hospitals can show they serve a unique service that for-profits cannot duplicate. Munroe has done that over the years. And that gives Purves and his hospital important credibility when they say "don't judge all public hospitals the same." Because they're not.
Copyright © 2011 Ocala.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.