|Ocala, FL -
Sunday, October 16, 2011|
Specially published to the Ocala Star-Banner on Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 6:30 a.m.
A recent opinion letter, "The other hospitals," discussed Ocala Regional Medical Center and West Marion Community Hospital, the two facilities that make up the for-profit Ocala Health System. The letter writer attempted to compare the for-profit system with Munroe Regional Medical Center (MRMC), the community's nonprofit hospital, owned by the community and whose mission is solely focused on this community.
I have a different viewpoint than the letter writer on several points.
Ocala Health System is owned and operated by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the largest private operator of health care facilities in the world. It is accountable to its investors and stockholders for providing a return on investment.
Ocala Health System has won some recent quality awards. MRMC also has an impressive chest full of national quality recognitions it has garnered. An important comparison not mentioned by the letter writer is the data on cost efficiency from the Agency for Health Care Administration. Our own community hospital is more than $800 per admission less costly than Ocala's for-profit hospitals and is demonstrably one of the most cost-efficient in Florida.
On the subject of taxes, the letter writer said, "what is of benefit to Marion County taxpayers is that Ocala Health System is not asking for taxpayer dollars to sustain itself." Unless I've missed something, Munroe's trustees haven't asked for taxes. As we have read, they are in the process of exploring all options so let's not jump to conclusions.
Here's an important tax fact for you: According to the Marion County Clerk of the Circuit Court Finance Department, between 1995 and 2007 the for-profit Ocala Health System received a total of $12.8 million of our tax dollars to assist in their indigent care funding, while nonprofit MRMC received not one dime.
The letter writer also stated that Ocala Health System provides care for the uninsured residents of our community. Ocala Health's latest Community Report says they provide 35.5 percent of the indigent care in the market. Guess who provides most of the remaining 65 percent of that care? Yep, MRMC! Also, if a local sales tax for indigent care could be implemented, is the letter writer saying Ocala Health System wouldn't want its percentage share? I bet it would.
The letter writer pointed out that Ocala Health System pays local taxes. Its Community Report stated a little over $5 million in total, with a self-reported economic impact of over $136 million.
An economic impact study conducted by the University of Florida showed MRMC paying $15 million in indirect taxes and having a $1 billion-a-year economic impact on our community. That's impressive and important.
We are, indeed, a fortunate community to have the health care services that we do. However, when it comes to our community-owned hospital, MRMC has the most annual admissions for care, the most emergency visits, takes care of the majority of our community's indigent patients and is the only hospital that delivers babies, even though it loses money on that service. Remember that in October 2005, Ocala Health System chose to immediately stop delivering babies because it just wasn't profitable — a decision undoubtedly made at HCA's corporate headquarters in Nashville.
This is another significant difference between MRMC and HCA. MRMC's decisions are made locally with accountability to the residents, not to investors, and all profits are reinvested in the institution for the community's benefit.
The letter writer stated "there are three hospitals providing care to our community; one facing an uncertain financial future and two that are managing the current health care environment without taxpayer assistance." Perhaps he has some insider information about HCA's Ocala Health System that the rest of us don't have.
Try getting a copy of their corporate strategic plan, financial statements or minutes of their meetings, for example. You could obtain these items from MRMC, since it has the responsibly of operating in accordance with the Government in the Sunshine laws and public-records requirements. Ocala Health System does not have this responsibility and can operate in an environment of corporate secrecy.
It seems to me that MRMC has served us extraordinarily well over many years without being a burden on the taxpayers. MRMC has supported our community over the years, so maybe it's time for the community to support MRMC. However, that should be up to the residents who own MRMC, not politicians.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ed Johnson is a former member of the Munroe Regional Medical Center Board of Directors and a past chairman of the Marion County Hospital District board of Trustees. He and his wife, Lois, live in Ocala.