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Editorial: Recognizing value in public hospitals

IN OUR OPINION

Ocala, FL - November 27, 2011

Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on  Sunday, November 27, 2011

How the people of Marion County and Florida are going to continue funding their public hospitals is a difficult question to which answers will not come easy, but the notion that we could do without these safety-net facilities anytime soon received emphatic rebukes from two noteworthy boards this week.

Both boards, the governor-appointed Commission on Review of Taxpayer-Funded Hospital Districts and the Munroe Regional Strategic Options Workgroup, agreed this week, in separate votes, that selling our public hospitals is not in the public's best interest. We couldn't agree more.

The idea of selling these valuable community facilities, indeed assets, because they are costly — as is anything health care-related — without having a means of providing the vast array of services they provide is unthinkable. There is no doubt public hospitals, with a parochial interest in Munroe, face steep fiscal challenges in the coming years, but shutting them down and selling them hardly seems to be the answer.

When Ocala resident Brad Dinkins blind-sided fellow members of the governor's hospital review board with a motion for the commission to recommend doing away with all of Florida's public hospital districts and, in turn, their taxing ability, and selling off the public hospitals, he received a harsh and deserved retort from his fellow commission members.

Commission member state Rep. Larry Hudson, R-Naples, made the most obvious point, telling Dinkins “to cast a net like that does not resonate completely well with me.”

Precisely. To compare Munroe, which receives no tax support and has maintained top-tier status among evaluating agencies for a decade, with Miami's Jackson Memorial, a massive inner-city safety-net hospital that has been bleeding hundreds of millions in losses for years, is, well, to cast too broad a net and is irresponsible.

Meanwhile, the Munroe Strategic Options Workgroup is looking at what management options are available to the hospital that might improve its operational bottom line, including partnerships, a new lease or, possibly, asking for a hospital tax. One thing the group made clear this week, however, is it does not think selling Munroe and turning it into a private facility is in the community's best interest. Again, we could not agree more.

The reality is, public hospitals provide too many services that private hospitals are unwilling to provide because, frankly, they are unprofitable. Moreover, despite the efforts of public hospital opponents like Dinkins, there is yet to be any evidence that public hospitals as a whole are any more costly to patients than private hospitals. In Munroe's case, the state Agency for Health Care Administration shows it is less costly than its area competitors.

The existence of both these study groups is worthwhile as we continue to see the cost of health care, especially public health care, climb. But as long as more than one-fourth of our community's residents are without health insurance, and as long as some services and procedures are deemed just too costly for private hospital operators to provide, we will need public hospitals — and should support efforts to make them fiscally healthy, and keep them that way.

Public hospitals do an immeasurable amount of good in most of the communities they serve, and we are blessed to have one of Florida's finest in Munroe. Doing away with them would be a huge loss to our state and communities, and we are glad the people examining their long-term prospects recognize that.


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