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Slow and steady


Ocala Star Banner Editorial:

Slow and steady

http://www.ocala.com/article/20131006/OPINION01/131009817/-1/entertainment02?p=all&tc=pgall

Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.

If there has been one constant throughout the more than half decade of discussion about how to ensure the long-term health of Munroe Regional Medical Center, it is that each step taken by hospital trustees has been slow and steady.

Now, as they near the completion of contract negotiations with Naples-based Hospital Management Associates on a 40-year lease deal that will pay the Marion County Hospital District, Munroe's owner, more than $400 million in cash and building and maintenance improvements, trustees should continue to adhere to the slow and steady strategy more than ever. Every indication is they are doing just that.

The trustees spent more than a year evaluating prospective companies to manage Munroe, and HMA in partnership with UF Health Shands came out the winners. Since then, however, HMA has been besieged with controversy and internal upheaval. It is facing investigations by both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of its executives have be ousted. Its entire eight-member board of directors has been replaced after a revolt by its biggest shareholder, Glenview Capital, over the various legal entanglements and lower-than-expected earnings.

As all this is unfolding, Nashville-based Community Health Systems, which owns or manages 135 hospitals in 29 states, made a $3.9 billion buyout offer to HMA shareholders. With HMA's 71 hospitals in 15 states, the new merged company would become the nation's largest hospital company.

So where does Munroe now fit into these high stakes corporate affairs? According to those negotiating on behalf of the people of Marion County, who own Munroe, nothing has changed as far as the terms of the agreement. HMA and Munroe's trustees continue to work toward finalizing a contract that would give the Hospital District $200 million in cash that, under law, must be spent on local health care needs, $150 million for expansions and building improvements and another $75 million for maintenance needs in return for the right to manage Munroe for 40 years.

As for CHS, its board has verbally committed to honoring the Munroe agreement with HMA if the merger goes through, which is expected sometime after the first of the year.

Negotiators told us they will make sure there is a contingency clause in any agreement with HMA dictating that should the company be bought out, its deal with Munroe must be locked in and honored by their new owners.

The timetable for completion of the Munroe-HMA contract is sometime in November, with the CHS-HMA merger going to CHS stockholders probably sometime in January — the stockholder vote is the determining factor in whether the buyout-merger can go through.

The community conversation about the need to find a new way of managing Munroe started in 2006. Here we are, seven years later, having been through a slow, steady process that examined all options — from selling it, to taxing the community, to, now, leasing it long term.

With just a few months to go, we applaud trustees for sticking to the slow and steady strategy in setting the future course of one of Marion County's most valuable public assets. It's was a prudent strategy from the start, and its a prudent strategy now.


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