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My View: Hospital board deserves re-election

Under this board’s oversight, Sarasota Memorial Healthcare has accomplished remarkable achievements. There is no need to change horses.


  • By
  • | 10:17 a.m. August 5, 2022
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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There is a reason they say you should not change horses in mid-stream. The same is true for a well-run organization. When it is operating well, you don’t throw the leaders out.

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is this community’s largest singular economic driver, its largest employer, its most consistently mentioned factor for attracting new residents, and —most importantly — a source of world-class care. It is a successful, well-run public health care system.

That is why it has been so startling lately to read what The Observer writes about its board. While on the one hand recounting the unprecedented accolades and successes overseen by the current board and system CEO David Verinder, even during the unprecedented challenges of the last 2 1/2 years, the editorial commentary — and, most recently, the endorsements in the upcoming hospital board elections — seem fixated on change in the board composition for change’s sake. 

Morgan Bentley is the founder and managing partner of Bentley Goodrich Kison, P.A. He is a past chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics and a long-time supporter of Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Morgan Bentley is the founder and managing partner of Bentley Goodrich Kison, P.A. He is a past chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics and a long-time supporter of Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

The logic goes something like this: When a board comes to near-unanimous agreement on critical decisions, the decisions (or at least the decision-making process) must be questionable.

This is wrong. With regard to this board and these elections, it is also dangerous to the successes of the hospital that the Observer has touted.

The board members — all of whom have declared themselves and have shown that they are ready, willing and able to serve — have earned the respect and support of the community.

Joe DeVirgilio, Jim Meister, Dick Rehmeyer, Daryl Henry, and Greg Carter have all demonstrated the kind of leadership that the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System and the citizens of Sarasota County need and deserve.

This is no time, and there is no need, to change the majority composition of this nine-member board. We already have the right people leading this enterprise.

The argument against the proposition that the board agrees too much so must be doing something wrong is right there in the public records. I know, because I looked. 

With regard to Mr. Verinder’s compensation and contract:

Without criticizing any prior CEO, it is clear the system’s consistent financial stability began in 2014, the year that Verinder became CEO. Further, the programs and services provided to the community have advanced beyond all previous achievements of this historically great health care system. 

The certification of the trauma center; the establishment of graduate medical education; the opening of the SMH-Venice; the planning for the SMH-North Port; the much-needed replacement of the Behavioral Health Center; the expansion of outpatient services; and the creation of the Brian D. Jellison Cancer Center — all of these happened under the strategic direction of this board and Verinder’s executive leadership, most within these board members’ most-recent term. It is not surprising, and is in fact commendable, that the board agrees that they want to keep  Verinder on Team SMH. 

The process for setting Verinder’s compensation and his contract tenure is also criticized, but the minutes of the Board’s Governance Effectiveness Committee show that the process was robust, was informed by market data from outside consultants and involved substantial debate and discussion including healthy disagreement and compromise.

That eight of nine, or even nine of nine, elected officials can come together is not a failing of an elected board. It is a triumph of good governance. It is an example of how experienced, responsible board members who have respect for each other and a strong commitment to their oath of office serve their community. It should be recognized and rewarded.

With regard to the SMHCS response to COVID-19: In the coming weeks, Sarasota Memorial will reach the sad milestone of caring for its 10,000th COVID-19 patient. There has been an unfortunate politicization of the issues around vaccines, treatments and policies related to COVID-19. Reviewing the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board minutes, though, it is clear that the board kept its focus on patients, not politics. 

They ensured that the health care team had all of the resources it needed, including the increasingly scarce personal protective equipment to keep staff and patients as safe as possible.

While the entire vaccine issue has been hopelessly politicized, the board tried to incentivize, rather than mandate, staff to take the vaccine to keep team members healthy and patients safe. 

With regard to the other candidates, the main question for me is: Why haven’t any of them gotten involved with Sarasota Memorial governance before? None of them has applied for open positions on the board when previous board members have left mid-term or shown any interest in serving as a community representative on any of the multiple board committees. They haven’t asked to serve on the board of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare. The physician running isn’t even a member of the medical staff at either of the system’s hospitals. 

The incumbents, on the other hand, have raised their hands again to continue to serve, despite the challenges of the pandemic, despite the drain on their home and family life, despite working in relative anonymity (that seems to make them more vulnerable to political challenge than their records should allow). This community deserves the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, and the incumbents who have made it what it is deserve the community’s support.

I strongly encourage you to vote for Joe DeVirgilio, Jim Meister, Dick Rehmeyer, Daryl Henry and Greg Carter. Let’s keep the team that got us here together.

Morgan Bentley is the founder and managing partner of Bentley Goodrich Kison, P.A. He is a past chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics and a long-time supporter of Sarasota Memorial Hospital.