Hospital sale review bill clears Senate committee

Jan 30, 2012

A bill that would revamp the way Florida public hospitals are sold or leased is facing some opposition from hospitals. As Sascha Cordner reports, while the measure seeks to put more oversight in place over the sale of a hospital, some argue the bill is not needed because hospitals already have enough procedures in place.

Senate President Designate Don Gaetz says all his bill does is make the process of selling or leasing a hospital more public and more transparent by putting a few new rules in place:

“First, to compare the hospitals operations to ones that are similar serviced hospitals, in other words, have a look at the competition to see how you stack up on cost and quality, and secondly, get a fair market evaluation, and paying half the cost of the evaluation, and third, hold a public meeting and explain why the board has decided a potential lease or sale, and the CFO of Florida certifies the process has been open and fair.”

Under the Gaetz bill, Senate Bill 1568, depending on where the hospital is sold or leased to, the proceeds could go towards any number of things such as indigent care, education, and law enforcement.

But, Nick Iarossi, who represents the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, had a problem with that. He says the legislature should not dictate where the proceeds should go because that’s something for hospital districts or locally-elected boards to decide:

“Right now, those decisions continue to be made locally by the hospital board of where to best utilize those proceeds within the legislative community, and this legislation would handcuff to a certain degree where that money can be spent.”

But, Republican Senator Mike Bennett argued that leaving it up to a local board or district to decide where the proceeds should go may not be in the best interest of the community. He says what supporters of the bill don’t want is a repeat of an incident in Sarasota County several years ago.

“When they sold the Venice Hospital, down in Venice, Florida, that was going to be the Venice foundation, and the Venice foundation was set up to all these wonderful things, and then all of a sudden they changed the name to ‘the community foundation,’ and they took Venice out of it. And, the people of the city of Venice, and Senator Detert and several were really upset that this was their hospital and this was their money, and so, I think there is a valid concern about what happens with these proceeds.”

Iarossi, with the Safety Net Hospital Alliance, also worried the state was taking power out of local hands, and costing taxpayers more. John Radcliffe was also of the same mind. He’s the Public Policy Director for Service Employees International Union. It represents the nurses, doctors, and health care professionals at Jackson Memorial in Miami. He says things like a fair-market evaluation, for example, should be left solely up to the hospital board.

“To sell the hospital or any of those major decisions, it’s the decision of the owner of the hospital, which is the county, the county commission. So, the provisions in the bill, which would mandate that the county use any resources that were obtained 50-percent for this or whatever, it seems inappropriate because the county commission which is an elected body, would be in the best position to determine those kinds of things.”

But, Senator John Thrasher says what objecting hospitals need to realize is that all this bill does is put more public oversight into the process of the sale or lease of a hospital:

“If we’re going to sell or lease a big piece of property or an asset that is so vital to so many communities, I just simply ask a question: What’s wrong with more public input? What’s wrong with more public notice What’s wrong with more public oversight? Seems to me like we’re headed in the right direction.”

The measure passed unanimously in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Before the measure heads to the Senate Floor, it has one last committee stop, the Senate Budget Committee. Its House companion has yet to be heard in any committees.