|Ocala, FL -
October 7, 2012|
Special to the Star-Banner
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.
While the impact of your one vote in the upcoming presidential election will be negligible, there is a local question on the ballot where your vote is quite important. It will determine the future of Munroe Regional Medical Center.
MRMC has faithfully served our community for 115 years. It is owned by you as a resident of Marion County, and its mission has always been to serve every person who comes to its doors, regardless of their ability to pay.
Today, the hospital's future is uncertain. Despite being recognized in the top 1 percent of hospitals nationwide and having the numbers to show it provides services at a low cost, MRMC's financial condition going forward is in peril. While at present its fiscal status remains strong, as seen in its high bond ratings, future projections indicate that there must be changes made to increase revenues to the hospital.
Why are revenues a problem? Last year, MRMC provided $20 million in charity care to those who could not pay. In addition, 75 percent of all MRMC patients are covered by either Medicare or Medicaid. Neither of these typically covers the actual cost of the care provided.
There are two possible solutions to the problem, and you as a voter will decide which one will be chosen.
The upcoming ballot asks you to vote to issue bonds. This will allow MRMC to sell bonds and raise $65 million. The funds will be used for capital improvements, including needed renovations, replacement of old equipment and keeping abreast of new technologies.
If the bond referendum does not pass, it is likely that the governing boards of the hospital will quickly move ahead in signing a 40-year lease with a for-profit multi-hospital system. In reality, the hospital will be sold to an outside owner.
The cost of the bonds will be paid for with a property tax. While everyone hates property taxes, the actual impact on a majority of residents will be minimal. With numbers from our local property appraiser and tax assessor, it has been determined that 50 percent of property owners will pay $25 or less each year for five years and 25 percent of homeowners will pay $60 or less per year.
Many have wondered why not a sales tax, in that this tax would be paid by all the residents. Unfortunately, the way the law is written, this tax would not raise sufficient revenue to be of any value to the hospital. As an aside, it also appears that a sales tax would cost the average individual more than the property tax.
Let me share with you the reasons I am not in favor of leasing to a for-profit hospital system. MRMC is one of the best community assets we have. It is a positive for both individuals and companies looking to move to Marion County. Health care is as important to them as quality of life issues and public safety. Is it wise to replace a known quantity with an unknown one? I will remind you of the recent history of the Silver Springs attraction; compare the facility to where it was 20 years ago. Its decline seems to be the result of transferring oversight to outside for-profit national corporations.
With the leasing of MRMC to a for-profit corporation, a number of uncertainties will arise.
Will the quality of care remain at the same high level or will the need to pay dividends to stockholders take precedent over the ratio of nurses to patients?
Will essential services be retained? Obstetrics loses money each year. Is it possible 3,000 mothers will need to go to Gainesville for their deliveries?
Will all of our residents be served or will barriers be erected that reduce access to care for the indigent?
Will the community have a voice in how MRMC is managed, or will decisions be made out of town by individuals who have no connection or commitment to our community?
None of these changes will occur immediately, but over time, will we slowly come to realize that our once great hospital has been replaced by a mediocre one?
You own MRMC and you are being asked to determine its future. Please vote on Nov. 6.
Mike Jordan, a retired physician, is executive director of the Marion County Children's Alliance and a member of the Marion County Hospital District Board of Trustees, which oversees Munroe Regional Medical Center.