|Ocala, FL -
September 26, 2011|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:12 p.m.
The administration of Munroe Regional Medical Center got an important vote of confidence Monday that may keep it at the helm of the hospital until at least 2023.
The District Board of Trustees and the Munroe Hospital Board of Directors allowed the lease with the administration, which operates the medical center as a not-for-profit company called Munroe Regional Health Systems, Inc., to renew for another 10 years beginning in 2013.
Munroe Regional Health Systems, Inc., had been scheduled all along to receive a new 10-year lease. But critics, pointing to forecasts that show the hospital losing money beginning some time in the next few years, argued against giving MRHS a new lease to run the institution.
One of those critics, Hospital District Trustee Joe Hanratty, said he did not want to enter a new long-term relationship with MRHS because the hospital may ultimately end up in the hands of a private hospital company that can stop Munroe's slide into red ink.
"It's appropriate to consider aligning yourself with another institution or aligning yourself with another entity to sustain (the hospital)," Hanratty said.
The trustees and the hospital board on Monday debated shortening the MRHS lease as a compromise before finally deciding to allow the lease to renew on Oct. 1, 2013. The new lease will run through 2023 but can be broken by a vote of the two boards.
The decision to extend MRHS's lease 10 years was applauded by roughly three dozen community and business leaders in attendance, many of whom made emotional pleas during the meeting in support of keeping MRHS. They roundly rejected the idea of turning over control of the medical center to a private hospital company, and several chided Hanratty and other critics for even considering the idea.
Jim Maguire, a local banker who also serves on the board of the Munroe Foundation, the hospital's fundraising arm, noted that MRMC has consistently enjoyed high national rankings for the quality of its health care delivery.
"I quite frankly don't understand why anybody would want to tear that apart or destroy what we've built in this community," he said.
Sharon Glassman, a local businesswoman who owns a medical clinic among her holdings, likewise scolded Hanratty and members of the Marion County Commission that she believes want to privatize Munroe.
"When I hear we want to make this a for-profit hospital, let's remember that we have corporate welfare all over this country … so don't tell me that corporate ownership is going to solve our problems."
At the heart of the debate is the question of how to shore up MRMC's finances into the future. While the hospital is financially stable now, it provides a significant amount of uncompensated care to the poor and receives progressively lower reimbursements from government and private insurers.
Unless something happens to reverse the trend, Munroe could be facing budget shortfalls within a few years, administrators say.
Among the possibilities officials are exploring with the help of a consultant are passing a tax to support the hospital, forging partnerships with other health care providers or even turning over control of Munroe to a private hospital company.