Published in Ocala Star-Banner on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 6:30 a.m.
Listen to those talking the loudest about the future of Munroe Regional Medical Center, and they would lead you to believe that that future comes down to one of two choices: a hospital tax to keep the hospital running much as it has, or some sort of “partnership” that would turn over management of the award-winning public health center to an outside, private organization.
While the Munroe tax-or-not-to-tax discussion has lumbered along now for five years — and has had more ups and downs and twists and turns than we can list — the absolutists who are framing the discussion would be well advised to take a breath, step back and think more broadly.
The Marion County Hospital District trustees, who oversee Munroe on behalf of the taxpayers, will meet a week from Monday to once again discuss the renewal of the lease to Munroe Health Systems Inc., the not-for-profit organization now managing the hospital. The lease is not nearly as big of a deal as some are making it out to be. While under current bylaws, trustees are supposed to either extend it or end the lease by Sept. 30, but there are options. Trustees can alter the bylaws, or not, and the lease still can be ended at a later date.
Hospital administration and its supporters, meanwhile, argue that leaving the management in limbo is bad for the stability of the hospital and make it difficult to cut business deals and recruit high-demand health care practitioners, including physicians.
Again, absolutism has taken over the discussion when, in fact, the trustees have plenty of leeway.
What seems to be getting pushed aside in all the back and forth is that Marion County has one of the finest publicly owned hospitals in the state, if not the nation. All sides agree that the current management has done a remarkable job, and the results are seen in one of the highest ratings in health care outcomes and one of the lowest costs per patient among Florida hospitals.
In short, the decision-makers need to keep their eye on the prize — a world-class community hospital. How to keep it that way without breaking the bank and without diminishing the community's access to its services should be, must be the priority.
When trustees meet, they should look at extending the current lease two to three years, at which time it would end, regardless. That gives all sides time to study consultants Ponder and Associates' findings of the so-called “other options” available to trustees beyond a hospital tax — because everyone must understand, any private entity that might come in and be asked to dump millions upon millions into capital and technological improvements at Munroe is going to expect a profit and operational control, and it is doubtful the Munroe this community loves will be the same Munroe as today.
There should be no absolutes in mind at this point, except what is best for Munroe and the community. Maybe that is a tax. Maybe that is a partnership. Maybe it is a combination of the two.
What is desperately needed is open minds to all possibilities. Munroe is a jewel. Egos and politics need to put aside and the quibbling stopped and a serious, deliberative search for what is best for the future of our nationally recognized community hospital and, in turn, our community needs to ensure in earnest.
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