Since reporting in July on a Hospital Corporation of America/HCA PAC connection to the slate of Republican challengers running against the Republican hospital board incumbents, others have also reported on the issue. Susan Nilon referenced the existence of an HCA political action committee in her blog post.. Nilon also recounted that at least one candidate was approached by the HCA PAC, and privatization of SMH was discussed. Articles have appeared in the Herald Tribune calling the HCA PAC’s efforts to privatize Sarasota Memorial Hospital a “rumor”, relying on “firm denials” from HCA (surprise!). Another entirely dismissive piece was published in The Observer, again replete with reassurances from HCA (another surprise!).
My highly credible source says that two other possible candidates were approached by the HCA PAC, wanting to back them to unseat current hospital board incumbents. These two individuals declined, and they approached supporters of Sarasota Memorial with this information. Supporters of SMH assessed the credibility of the information and took the threat seriously. They organized a PAC, and gathered at least $70,000 in donations. People don’t fork over those kind of dollars for baseless “rumors”.
Given Governor Scott’s history as an HCA executive, and his relentless efforts to privatize Florida’s public hospitals (detailed in my post “Look Who’s Running For Hospital Board, Part One), it seems hopelessly naive to dismiss privatization concerns with this slate of Republican challengers. Why would there be so much interest in what is typically a very low key local race, when the SMH board is performing so well?
Another motivation for HCA to support hospital board challengers exists: gaining a portion of the $40 million dollars in hospital taxes collected each year in Sarasota County. HCA and other for profit hospitals sued for a portion of those dollars in 2011, but lost the case. It’s under appeal.
HCA and other for-profit hospitals may believe that if they provide any indigent care, they are entitled to a piece of the hospital millage. But for-profit hospitals have shareholders to please, and they pick and choose what services they will provide. In Sarasota County, only Sarasota Memorial provides maternity, pediatrics, mental health, and neonatal intensive care services. These services don’t provide big profits to shareholders – but they provide a big return to the public. Therein lies the difference between a public hospital which answers to citizens and a for-profit hospital which answers to shareholders. Our hospital taxes ought to go to the public facility dedicated to providing a return on investment to taxpayers, not shareholders.
For taxpayers, our investment in Sarasota Memorial Hospital pays a handsome return in high quality healthcare. During my twenty years in the pharmaceutical industry I called on hospitals all over the country; I spent ten of those years working on the Gulf Coast. In my field we’d say “If you’ve been in one hospital, you’ve been in one hospital.” Each one is different. Sarasota Memorial is an exemplary hospital. SMH is consistently recognized by the independent health care ratings organization, Healthgrades, with numerous awards for clinical excellence. Of approximately 5,000 hospitals in the nation, Sarasota Memorial is one of only 5 hospitals to achieve both Healthgrades’ 50 Best Hospitals and Patient Safety Excellence awards 6 years in a row.
Our current hospital board members have demonstrated their commitment to maintaining Sarasota Memorial’s public, non-profit status. They will resist the efforts of for-profits to grab hospital tax dollars while opting out of providing essential services. The hospital board race is an open primary race – everyone can vote, regardless of party affiliation. Please be sure to vote on Tuesday, August 26th to keep our incumbent hospital board members – Darryl Henry, Robert Strasser, Gregory Carter, Joseph DeVirgilio and Richard Merritt – in office.