Recent events clearly highlight how state government has negatively impacted our community. Changes in Tallahassee over the past four years have been highly negative for Sarasota in two critical areas: our public hospital and planning policies. Most of the discussion around the governor’s race is focused on other topics: immigration and education among them. For those who care about the future of Sarasota, the gubernatorial candidates couldn’t be any more different when it comes to how we steward our built environment and public hospital.
Rick Scott’s track record as a hospital executive who benefited from Medicare fraud is well documented. Sarasota voters should also take note of Tallahassee’s repeated efforts under Scott to privatize our award-winning public hospital. As he entered office in 2010, Scott’s transition team moved Scott’s shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics, into his wife’s trust. They also recommended an investigation of Florida’s public hospitals with an eye toward privatization.
Scott issued an executive order in 2011 appointing a commission to scrutinize the performance of public hospitals. An ethics complaint was filed against Scott, as eliminating the role of public hospitals in providing indigent care would increase the walk-in patient population serviced by the company he founded, Solantic. Scott claimed he was “not involved” with Solantic, though his wife now owned the shares. The Scotts sold the shares due to this and other charges of conflict of interest. Meanwhile, Scott’s commission (absent public hospital representatives) found public hospitals no better or worse than private hospitals.
Undeterred, the state legislature passed and Scott signed a law in 2012 requiring Florida’s public hospitals to conduct an in-house analysis of their performance. SMH documented unique, high-quality, cost-effective patient care. The hospital board voted to remain a public, non-profit hospital. In unprecedented fashion, each one of these incumbent Republican hospital board members found themselves challenged by a fellow Republican in the primaries. Coincidence?
In the realm of community planning, the state’s Department of Community Affairs, the watchdog agency charged with ensuring wise land use decisions, was eliminated under Rick Scott. The Orlando Sentinel described the 2011 policy sea change, written by development lobbyists, as “the most far-reaching reorganization of state agencies in more than two decades” and noted its replacement, the Community Development division of the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), has “little power to intervene” in growth-management fights.
In a letter to the DEO, 1000 Friends of Florida stated Sarasota County’s 2050 changes do not conform with Florida statutes 163.3177(1)(a)9, 163.3177(1)(b) and 163.3177(1)(f). My conversation with DEO about 1000 Friends of Florida’s legal objections confirmed the agency’s inability to intercede, not because 1000 Friends of Florida’s objections were incorrect but because the DEO has no power to enforce standards against sprawl. While The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and County Commission point to the DEO’s approval of 2050 plan changes as proof of their innocuous nature, they fail to acknowledge how the DEO cannot enforce standards against economically and environmentally degrading sprawl development.
The quality of our healthcare and built environment impacts our quality of life every day. Sarasota Memorial delivers superior care, nationally recognized for its excellence. SMH is the only provider in the county of OB/GYN, pediatric and neo-natal intensive care services, as well as the primary hospital provider of indigent and psychiatric services. While services for infants, mothers and the mentally ill may not be “profitable” to for-profit hospitals, our community believes their care is a very wise investment. Careful land-use planning sets the table for community prosperity, but recently approved 2050 changes are inconsistent with legal standards designed to prevent sprawl and ensure our quality of life. We didn’t have these problems when Charlie Crist was governor. I’d be very happy to see him return.