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Trustee appointments critical to Munroe

OTHER VOICES

Ocala, FL - June 17, 2012
Published: Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

It is to the credit of the Marion County Commission that over the years, for the most part, they have selected proven long-standing community leaders to serve as Munroe Regional Medical Center trustees.

The direct result of the foresight and wisdom of the trustees, an excellent medical staff and efficient operation, Munroe stands today as one of the finest community hospitals in America.

With terms of two of the seven trustees expiring on June 30, it is essential for commissioners to fill the vacancies with seasoned and successful Ocala/Marion County leaders. Their choices should have the skills and experience to determine the best course for the hospital to follow.

The appointments come, especially, at a time when the status of the 115-year-old health care institution is at stake.

Declining governmental payments for Medicare and Medicaid patients, comprising 75 percent of the patient case-load, a steady increase in uninsured patients unable to pay their bills in full and caring for the indigent has created approaching financial ills for Munroe.

In lieu of leasing or selling Munroe, trustees are seeking voter approval of a five-year, $65 million bond issue secured by up to a 1 mill property tax levy ($1 per $1,000 assessed property value) to retain local control of our widely acclaimed hospital.

The fact is that since the city of Ocala gave the hospital to the county years ago, a vast majority of county taxpayers have not paid a dime in taxes toward Munroe's expansion, operation, equipment and satellite properties. Even so, MRMC has accumulated liability-free assets of $213 million.

There was a time when the County Commission allocated funds to help Munroe pay for indigent health care. In 1984, the amount was $1,136,903. The commission stopped the indigent payments in 1994 when it allocated $961,000.

This past year, Munroe spent $23.8 million on capital improvements and $15.6 million to make payments on long-term bonds used to provide facilities, totaling $39.4 million.

Take a look at some additional figures that add up to even more outstanding results trustees were involved in. During a 12-month period, MRMC absorbed $6.6 million in charity care; $13.6 million in bad debt; $1.1 million to physicians for providing uncompensated emergency care; $400,000 to the Heart of Florida Health Center community clinic; $214,000 to other community health-related organizations; $21.8 million in capital expenditures; $158,000 to scholarships; and $14.5 million reinvested in buildings, equipment and technology.

The public is fortunate an impressive list of community-minded residents have served as trustees. Such a list includes bank presidents, a former lieutenant governor and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, president of a national firm, vice president of a multinational firm, developer of a popular residential community, a commercial and residential developer with several business endeavors, CPAs, doctors, prominent businesspeople, attorneys and a thoroughbred horse breeder. The list could go on. Too much emphasis can't be placed on the roles played by trustees as the hospital has attained its award-winning status.

For reasons best known to themselves, commissioners, in making their most recent trustee appointment, deviated from the long-standing practice of choosing someone with a background of working for the betterment of the area.

Not only was the commission's choice lacking in known public activity, he was selected unanimously, without any public discussion, to fill one of the most important volunteer assignments in county government.

Since that time, the commission wisely has changed its process in making trustee appointments. Under the new procedure, each commissioner will be present when each applicant is publicly interviewed. On June 19, a commission vote is scheduled to select the two new trustees. Under provisions of the state Sunshine Law, this will be the first time since the interviews that commissioners will have an opportunity to discuss the appointments.

Unquestionably, the upcoming appointments will be watched more carefully than any volunteer-board appointments ever made by past county commissioners. Those interested will include 25,000 members of Prestige 55, 1,600 Munroe volunteers, past patients pleased with care they received at Munroe and those who plan to go there when the need arises.

When commissioners make the appointments, the public deserves assurance that neither political persuasion nor bias will be factors when the quality of health care is involved.

Bernard Watts is a former longtime editor and editorial page editor for the Star-Banner.


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