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Our View

 

Date: July 23, 2014
by: Matt Walsh | Editor

 
 

Ugly and ridiculous things always happen in election campaigns.

Here’s one of the ridiculous: The rumor that Hospital Corp. of America is financing a slate of hospital board candidates who will convert Sarasota Memorial Hospital from a public to a for-profit hospital.

Talk about a broomstick whacking the wasp nest. All you have to do in Sarasota is breathe a word against Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and look out, buddy. If you want to get swarmed with wasp welts, try going after SMH.

Susan Nilon, owner of WSRQ Radio, was among the first to stir the nest with a post on SRQ Daily. Swinging away with incendiary commentary and little attribution, Nilon’s post had such buzz-words, phrases and sentences as:

• “Not able to confirm the rumor …”

• With no comment from him, she described Anthony Pedicini, the alleged recruiter of the slate, as the man “known around Sarasota for his work on Peter Lombardo’s campaign against State Attorney Ed Brodsky.” (Thwack! Take that, Pedicini!)

• There were the obligatory swipes at Gov. Rick Scott, former CEO of Columbia-HCA.

• She wrote: “It is believed that HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) has set aside $250,000 to launch this campaign.” (Italics added)

• “For those of you who are thinking that privatization is a good thing, you need to realize what that would really mean to our community. The first loss that would be felt would be maternity care.” (Stated as fact.)

And before you knew it, the rumor became fact. Or perceived as a fact. It was buzzing everywhere.

A former Sarasota Hospital Board member sent Nilon’s post our way with the following:

“Wow. She tells it like it is … sad when candidates run for such a narrow, self-interested position, particularly against incumbents who have built and maintained the most successful community hospital in the country.”

By Friday, another email shot out from a hospital supporter: “THIS IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD ALL BE WORRIED ABOUT!”

And then Republican Party operative Eric Robinson, husband of Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson, became treasurer of a new political committee — Save Our Community Hospital.
In a one-pager asking for money, Save Our Community Hospital wrote:

“This year, for-profit hospitals are again trying to take control of Sarasota Memorial in a new way — by engineering a covert takeover of the elected board. … [T]he for-profit hospital has recruited and funded challengers to these incumbents (for a reported $150,000 or at least $30,000 per candidate) in the hope that they can divert tax revenue to its own bottom line and away from the community and, ultimately, to turn Sarasota Memorial into a for-profit institution.”

Thwack! Talk about making Sarasotans fly around like mad wasps.

But everyone should calm down.

We’ll go out on a limb here: It won’t ever happen.

Here’s why: To convert Sarasota Memorial to a for-profit hospital would require a voter referendum.

And you can be sure of this: There is no way, probably ever, Sarasotans would give up the one institution they cherish above all else in this community.

There is still more to this story, however.

Did Anthony Pedicini, founder of Strategic Image Management, try to recruit Hospital Board candidate Jack Brill of Longboat Key to help privatize Sarasota Memorial?

Neither of them says explicitly that’s what occurred. Brill says privatization “was mentioned” in one of his conversations with Pedicini.

Pedicini says: “I am not involved nor do I know of any PAC trying to privatize SMH.”

Asked whether he is or was involved in helping HCA recruit candidates for the SMH board, Pedicini told us: “I have nothing to do with SMH. There is no contractual relationship with anyone that would have me involved in that race.”

The conspiracies still continue. How is that the challengers to the SMH board incumbents all signed up to run within 19 days of each other?

Another one: It’s not privatization that HCA wants. It wants to take over the board and create a management contract to operate Sarasota Memorial.

“There is no effort to privatize SMH,” Bob Meade, CEO of HCA-owned Doctors Hospital, told us. “Even if we wanted to do that, the FTC regulations would not allow it because of the number of hospitals we currently own in the region. Nothing that I have read thus far concerning privatization should be construed as credible.”

Asked whether HCA was involved in recruiting hospital board candidates, Meade added, “I have no knowledge of us doing anything like that.”

OK, we know HCA officials believe Sarasota Memorial’s tax revenues should not go exclusively to SMH for treating indigent patients. And in fact, if you read the enabling legislation for the Sarasota Hospital District, it says:

“[T]he Board of County Commissioners shall in like manner reimburse any other hospital in Sarasota County, approved by the State Board of Health, for hospital services rendered to medically indigent persons.”

But for HCA’s top management to think it can wrest control of Sarasota Memorial, much less its board, now that really is one of this election cycle’s most ridiculous stories. It’ll never happen.

+ Fire station-medical center
Cliche: When it rains, it pours.

It’s not exactly pouring on the town of Longboat Key, but it’s a steady rain:

• Beach renourishment costs

• Pension costs

• Water and sewer infrastructure replacements

Now this: The south fire station needs major repairs, and the two town fire stations need retrofitting to accommodate female firefighters and paramedics.

Commenting on the latter, Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi floated a wish last week worth considering:

“My wish would be a new, functional firehouse with a multi-use facility that could include room for meeting space for residents and maybe space for a small medical center that residents could help design through workshops.”

With the retirement earlier this year of Dr. Pamela Letts, Longboat Key is without a primary-care physician. Finding a replacement has been unsuccessful.

Dezzi’s idea for a medical center connected to a multi-use firehouse has merit. Perhaps that’s the answer to filling the Key’s medical needs — staffing it, say, with a physician’s assistant and other medical personnel able to handle minor aches, pains, cuts, bruises and beach mishaps for residents and visitors.

Once again, just as the town has embarked on a study to determine the feasibility and cost of underground power lines, another strategic conversation looks warranted.

It would be easy to decide to address the needs of the south fire station as a one-off project, but given its age (28 years), it’s also time to think long term: How should the town fulfill its facilities needs for the next 30 years?

Chief Dezzi has triggered a useful and warranted conversation.

Click here to view a chart of the hospital board's historical tax rates and tax revenues.

 

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