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Trauma center challenge shows Munroe’s real priorities

OTHER VOICES

Ocala, FL - January 20, 2013
Published in the Ocala Star Banner on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.

Our community recently watched, studied and debated the funding model of our community hospital, Munroe Regional Medical Center, and the merits of a property tax to provide additional support. To say this issue was divisive is to be kind.

We were told our community hospital would fall into financial loss and the quality of care would be sacrificed should this tax not be passed. We also have been told we would lose control over our hospital.

We have been told no one can provide the quality and breadth of care that MRMC is capable of and that this is the justification for the property owners of Marion County to pay more in taxes to support this hospital.

Ocala Regional Medical Center, a privately owned and financed medical facility, is located within 300 feet of MRMC. They have been in the process of pursuing the financially and technically demanding process of implementing a Level II trauma care facility.

ORMC has recently completed much of the construction, as well as the addition of a helicopter landing pad on the roof of their facility, and the preliminary certification process — all funded with private money. Let me say this again, this private company has invested tremendous private assets in the development of a facility to service Marion County and others. No local, state or federal money was used.

In the midst of the debate over whether to use higher taxes to fund Munroe’s future, Munroe also applied to establish a trauma center. Important questions remained unanswered. Why did Munroe file a letter of intent to establish a Level II trauma center when ORMC, located right next door, had already filed a letter of intent last September and already had an application to establish a Level II trauma center pending before the Florida Department of Health? The department apportions trauma centers according to geographic regions, which, in this case, would cover Citrus, Hernando and Marion counties. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that the Department would not see fit to approve two trauma centers in this region. Beyond this, how is it prudent, when MRMC is financially stressed, to attempt a head-to-head battle for a market with no assurance that the market can even sustain one medical facility?

The application would likely introduce new costs to Munroe, for employing trauma surgeons and other medical specialists who are uniquely trained and certified to provide trauma care. Furthermore, additional facilities or refurbishments may be required for a successful application. How much would it cost Munroe to establish a trauma program? Would the program be revenue positive or neutral? Answers to these questions were vaguely answered in the vein of “just trust us, we need this center to improve the care for patients in our community.”

On the issue of the bond referendum, our community voted “No.” Voters overwhelmingly sent a message that increasing our tax burden was not the way to a stronger economy or to improve the quality of health care in Marion County.

Fortunately, we also knew that we had a backstop in the issue of quality care because we knew that ORMC was already well on its way to establishing a trauma center to service our community, and given its status as an independent facility, there was no concern that their facility was going to impact our tax rates.

We recently were blessed with more good news. The Department of Health made the decision to grant ORMC provisional approval to move forward with their trauma center, even more emphatically validating the decision made by taxpayers to reject Munroe’s referendum.

Now, Munroe and both Shands of Jacksonville and Gainesville have filed motions in the courts to force the Department of Health to rescind their approval of ORMC’s trauma center.

I am astounded by this action! First, I do not know what interest Shands of Gainesville or Jacksonville have in this matter, except that maybe they want Marion County folks to keep driving to Gainesville instead of having access to quality care here in our local community. Second, the very trauma center that Munroe was arguing that our community needed, they are now arguing should be stopped. Is this not a bit two-faced? And where did they find the money for a legal battle?

I am outraged by this obvious ploy to disrupt a private business’ right to develop a market by a quasi-government organization. This is reminiscent of the predatory manner in which our federal government has been nationalizing the car companies, insurance companies and major banks.

Munroe has now proven that they are much more concerned about market control and money for a select few than what is best for the community and patients of Marion County. We, the people, will not forget it.

Butch Verrando is a semi-retired former manufacturing company owner who is active in the Marion County Tea Party Solutions. He lives near Dunnellon.


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