April 12, 2019
SOURCE: Citrus County Chronicle
THE ISSUE: Hospital lease dollars.
OUR OPINION: All the dollars must go to the foundation.
All of the dollars from the lease of Citrus Memorial Hospital to HCA belong to the taxpayers of Citrus County. And those dollars are all supposed to be used to fund nonprofit organizations in our community that provide health care and mental health care
services to residents of our community.
This simple statement continues to get twisted by the bureaucratic, legal and political wrangling of those assigned the task of disengaging the once public hospital.
We are pleased that the Citrus Memorial Hospital Board wants to appropriately move an additional
$6.7 million over to the volunteer foundation board that is charged with distributing the dollars to nonprofits. But we are chagrined that the attorney and chairman of the hospital board believe that $8 million of the public’s money needs to be retained by that organization or its future designee.
The original excuse for the hospital board retaining the $8 million was that hospital board attorney Bill Grant warned that HCA might stop delivering babies and the hospital board would need those funds to create a separate OB/GYN service. HCA recently invested $1.8 million in the maternity section and hired four new OB/GYN physicians. The argument that the $8 million must be diverted from its original purpose has no merit.
Grant and Chairwoman Debbie Ressler wanted to use that $8 million to dangle in front of the county school board so the elected organization will accept oversight duties of the ongoing 50-year hospital lease with HCA.
They have even offered to waste $100,000 in taxpayers’ dollars so the school board will not incur any internal dollars studying the idea of taking over the lease.
The proposal for the school board to get involved was absurd and we were pleased that school leaders unanimously rejected the proposal on Tuesday.
The oversight of the extended HCA lease should flow to the Citrus County Commission and the Clerk of the Courts. Grant and Ressler don’t want the county commission involved in the process because some commissioners have been critical of how much money the hospital board has spent on attorney fees, organizational costs and lawsuits. This entire
controversy is confusing and bureaucratic. But taxpayers must pay attention to how these dollars are being spent.
The hospital board and its attorney have done some positive things. They have aggressively secured funds that Medicaid owed to the hospital that might have been lost if less work was done. And the follow-up on the pension program and a consulting agency were in the best interest of the public.
But the many millions of dollars that exist in the hospital board accounts all need to move to the foundation board for the charitable purpose. None of those dollars should go to the school board, county commission or county clerk’s office for bureaucratic or legal costs in the future. That was not the intent of the original lease agreement.
In truth, HCA has done a good job of investing the tens of millions of dollars they pledged when they agreed to the lease. The private company is making those investments because it’s smart for business to remain as the primary medical facility serving this community.
We are glad there is a state auditing team now reviewing how all of these dollars are being spent. We hope that oversight will clear up the misgivings that exist.
The structure of this lease should not be based on politics. It’s not about what attorneys don’t like which politicians and visa-versa. The lease of Citrus Memorial was an unfortunate necessity that was supposed to have a silver lining. All of the dollars from the lease were supposed to be used for the purpose of providing health care services to the residents of Citrus County.
All involved need to make that happen. And if they can’t figure out how to do it, the state auditors need to draw up a road map for them to follow.