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Munroe vote a matter of people helping neighbors

Special to the Star-Banner

Ocala, FL - November 2, 2012
Published on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

"If I take care of my family, why should I help someone else's family?”

That is the question on the minds of some local citizens as they are deciding whether or not to support the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot on the bond issue for Munroe Regional Medical Center.

The age-old question, “Am I my brother's keeper?” is being asked anew. I would like to suggest that the matter can be viewed from a different perspective. I'll use a newer statement, “What goes around comes around.” Another phrase is “Pay it forward.” The premise is that if I help someone today, similar assistance will be there for me if and when I need it.

Nearly 200 years ago a young Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville visited the new nation of the United States to learn what was the key in successfully creating such a different kind of union.

He saw that it seemed to be “enlightened self-interest” that caused citizens to voluntarily help one another, which was not a concept then in play in his homeland.

He observed neighbors helping neighbors just to help each other. No direct payback. It just was the right thing to do.

Today in Marion County we live in what a recent Yankee transplant friend of mine called “Brigadoon,” a nearly perfect place almost beyond comprehension. Why is it that way? Do we have a different kind of person living here? Not likely. But it seems just to be a way of life here to help others, not to just take care of ourselves.

There are several institutions in our county that serve all the people regardless of their ability to pay and are paid for through property taxes — public schools, police, fire and libraries.

Why should something as important as hospital care be any different?

For a long time, until the mid-1980s, all property owners paid an ad valorem tax to support our hospital, and then came voices that said that tax dollars shouldn't be used for a hospital. Those years were generally prosperous years for businesses and workers in Marion County, so Munroe did without tax support during that period. But things change.

Now we're grappling with high unemployment and under-employment. People who once had health insurance now either have no job or have greatly reduced health insurance coverage where they work. Munroe hospital treats them all, regardless of their ability to pay. Nearly 3,000 women each year have babies at Munroe, but the cost of this service is not fully covered by insurance or other revenues. The time may come, if Munroe is leased to an out-of-town for-profit hospital chain when that chain will discontinue obstetrics because it loses money for the hospital. Then what?

Do we care that these women will have to travel 40 miles to Gainesville when they're in labor in order to deliver their babies? Do we care about the recently unemployed worker or his/her family member who needs surgery or some other kind of hospital care, and they can't pay all of their hospital bill, or even some of it? Do we care when technology produces better machines to care for patients and Munroe can't afford to buy them? Do we care about whether there are enough nurses to care for patients?

In order for a for-profit hospital to reward its stockholders/investors, costs must be cut.

Which costs do you think they will cut first? A community hospital doesn't have stockholders, therefore all its resources go into quality as their first priority.

As the Munroe trustees wrestled with the situation, they decided to ask the people if they were willing to help. When our community's hospital needs a boost financially because it takes care of so many who can't pay for their hospital needs, most Marion Countians will say, “Sure. I'll help.”

The bond referendum is a chance for all citizens to say “I'll help” with a small amount of tax dollars to make sure that this crown jewel of a health care facility stays owned and operated by and for the people of Marion County.

Can we count on you? Vote “yes” on Nov. 6.

Toni James has lived in Marion County for 51 years. She headed the United Way of Marion County for 30 years and now owns Toni James & Associates LLC, a public relations firm.

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