|Ocala, FL -
May 20, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star Banner on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.
Marion County property owners will have an opportunity to maintain the excellent health care at Munroe Regional Medical Center by approving the 10-year, $130 million bond issue sought by the hospital's trustees.
The public stands to benefit if MRMC continues to function as one of the top 50 hospitals in America. Funds derived from the bond issue sale, financed by a 1 mill increase in property taxes, will enable that to happen.
Faced with the need for additional funding due to a growing increase in the number of Medicare and Medicaid patients, along with individuals unable to pay their bills in full, trustees took the proper course in endorsing a bond issue in lieu of leasing or selling the hospital. Munroe has reached its present acclaimed status with a minimal amount of public funding.
Valuable nonmedical elements of MRMC would all but cease if the hospital is leased or sold to a private, for-profit organization.
Ancillary services that include Munroe's Foundation, the largest volunteer force of any hospital in Florida, Prestige 55, with a membership nearing 25,000, and the Community Benefits Program have played effective roles as MRMC has become one of the best hospitals in the country.
Founded in 1986, the Munroe Foundation has raised a large sum of money to upgrade and add new rooms and services at the hospital. In the past five years, donations in excess of $5 million have been used in funding a new operating room, four palliative-care rooms, and three screening labor rooms when MRMC became the only hospital in the county delivering babies.
The foundation's donors also have financed renovating the Emergency Department waiting room, acquiring state-of-the-art equipment, adding a nursery, with several gifts going to the new dining room. In addition, individual donations of more than $100,000 have been used to pay for a number of lobbies and waiting rooms.
It is unthinkable that donations in such amounts would be forthcoming to a for-profit hospital owned by nonlocal interests.
Munroe's volunteer contingent of 1,600 provides a wide range of services from delivering mail and flower arrangements and manning information desks to escorting visitors throughout the hospital and participating in administering flu and pneumonia vaccines. This past year, volunteers educated 2,268 first-grade students about emergency 911 as well as bike and stranger safety and hospital visitation. Along with the hospital staff, they provided 28 community health fairs.
It all adds up to more than 225,000 man-hours a year. On top of all that, the Volunteer Auxiliary has pledged funds from sales in the Gift Shop, Uniform Shop and LifeLine rentals for renovation and expansion programs.
It is difficult to fathom that such a large number of dedicated volunteers would be involved to this extent at a for-profit enterprise that is geared to providing money to its shareholders.
The same holds true for Prestige 55, a wellness and prevention program for seniors. Each year, its large membership is offered classes and seminars led by medical personnel and local leaders in wellness/fitness, social/leisure and education.
The hospital's Community Benefits Program provides a wide range of health-related functions, including allocating up to $400,000 annually to the Heart of Florida Health Center and funds for scholarships, as well as supporting the Women In Red and the Young Women in Red programs that provide women with facts about heart disease — the No. 1 killer of women.
The very thought that all or part of these vital auxiliary programs would be eliminated or strongly curbed if MRMC's status changed is disturbing. It definitely is not in the best interest of the county's residents if control of one of the finest community hospitals in the nation passes into the hands of outside leaseholders or owners.
Bernard Watts is a former longtime editor and editorial page editor for the Star-Banner.