|Ocala, FL -
February 28, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.
The Marion County Hospital District trustees decided Monday that they no longer would try to form a partnership with another health care system in order to financially help Munroe Regional Medical Center. The trustees will continue to consider leasing or selling the 421-bed hospital to a private system.
But the trustees also agreed to dust off a two-year-old plan to ask voters for financial help, an option that wouldn’t involve leasing or selling the hospital.
The trustees told their lawyers and hospital administration to return with information about developing a tax referendum to take to voters this year.
The trustees want to know the deadlines to put the issue on the ballot and the necessary wording of the referendum request. They also want to know how much a sales tax would generate and whether it would be enough to support the hospital. A half-cent sales tax would generate an estimated $14 million annually.
The idea of a tax has been floated for several years, but Marion County commissioners, who ultimately would have to approve the tax or vote to place it before voters, balked at the idea and trustees dropped the notion. County commissioners said they would not support tax support for Munroe at least until the hospital trustees considered non-tax options for shoring up Munroe’s worsening financial picture.
On Monday, trustee Kulbir Ghumman said he thinks the public is more likely to support a hospital tax now that the trustees have started examining those options, including a lease or sale.
“There’s a much greater awareness in the community,” he said during the meeting.
Before leasing or selling the hospital, Ghumman said that the public should decide whether it wanted a hospital tax.
“We have a tax for security — police and fire rescue. And a tax for even your garbage to be picked up,” he said. “Why not contribute a small sum for quality health care, amongst the best offered in the county ... at one of the lowest costs?”
“People are (now) understanding what the impact is (of a sale or lease),” he said.
Trustee Dr. Michael Jordan said after the meeting that the public should help determine what happens to the community’s hospital.”
“If we’re supposed to be looking at all options ... then clearly it’s on the table,” he said. In determining whether to support a hospital tax, Jordan said the public should ask itself, “How important is it that your local hospital stays under community control?”
The trustees abandoned the possibility of partnering with another health care entity when hospital consultants and lawyers told them a partnership would still require that hospital decision-makers follow Florida’s open meetings and records laws, something that a private health care partner would not want.
Driving the trustees’ search for help is the hospital’s financial projections, which show that unless something changes, Munroe will begin running in the red sometime in the near future. During lean years it has survived off of its savings and Wall Street investments, but it has been warned by its economic advisers that it can’t continue as it has and still hope to remain competitive.
Hospital officials say Munroe faces this predicament because it provides an array of money-losing services that other hospitals in the region won’t.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the trustees instructed their strategic options workgroup, the group created to find a potential buyer or someone to lease the hospital, to reduce its list of interested health care companies. To date, seven health care companies have contacted the trustees. Trustees want the list to be reduced to three or four.
Trustee chairman Jon Kurtz said during the meeting he also wanted the trustees to consider reducing the hospital’s unprofitable services or eliminating those that are too costly. Some of the hospital’s money-losing services include its maternity services, general surgeries and medicine and infectious disease treatment. Its most profitable include its cardiology services and cardiac surgeries.
“If we’re going to look under every rock (for solutions), we should look under every rock,” Kurtz said of cutting services.
But Jordan said cutting services wasn’t best for the hospital or the public.
“It goes against the grain as to how this hospital has worked for the past 113 years,” Jordan said. “It’s totally the antithesis ... of what we are about.”