The debate over the future of Florida’s government-owned hospitals will play out Wednesday in Hollywood Memorial as hospital leaders hold a legislatively mandated public meeting to discuss the “possible benefits” of the sale of the $1 billion Memorial Healthcare System.
All Florida public hospitals — including Jackson Health System and the North Broward Hospital District, which operates under the name Broward Health — must go through the same process: holding public meetings, hiring a company to assess the hospitals’ value and comparing their clinical performances against other hospitals. Then each board can determine whether to sell the hospitals.
The Legislature set the new requirements when it passed House Bill 711 this spring, the latest onslaught against government hospitals by conservative Republicans since Gov. Rick Scott won the 2010 election.
The biggest potential impact may be on the two Broward hospital districts, where Scott will have appointed all seven members on each board before his term is done. Jackson is owned by Miami-Dade County and county commissioners have made it clear they oppose selling the public system, though it has lost $419 million the past three years.
Opposition to Florida’s government hospitals started in late 2010, when the transition of team of Scott, former chief executive of the national for-profit HCA hospital chain, recommended an investigation into whether the state needed government-owned hospitals. In March 2011, Scott appointed a task force to study whether government hospitals should continue to exist under the theory that private hospitals can be more efficient and all hospitals should receive tax dollars for caring for the uninsured. The group’s report, issued in January, recommended that hospital taxing districts — including North and South Broward — should be reapproved by voters every eight or 12 years or be shut down.
The Legislature did not deal directly with that report, but instead ordered evaluations to weigh the pluses and minuses of selling the government facilities.
Though the legislation doesn’t require government hospitals to start the process until Dec. 31, the Memorial system, also known as the South Broward Hospital District, has raced ahead and is close to finishing the process. North Broward is getting started, studying bids to select a third-party evaluator. Jackson has yet to get started.
Each is in a slightly different political position. Memorial’s board has two seats for which Scott can make appointments at any time. At Broward Health, Scott has already made two appointments and can appoint another member immediately if he chooses. In Jackson’s case, the shape of its governing body could change this fall as the mayor and some commissioners face re-election.
The governor’s office said Tuesday he plans to appoint the “most qualified” board candidates but wouldn’t say whether he would select those who favor the sale of public hospitals. “It is certainly a priority to fill the vacancies” but there is no timeframe, said the governor’s spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz.
David Di Pietro, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott appointed to the Broward Health board, called selling the hospitals “a very complicated process.” He favors careful consideration of the facts but “in the long run, I’m definitely in favor of looking at selling” the system.Memorial Chief Executive Frank Sacco said Memorial’s push to fulfill the requirements of the new law has nothing to do the governor’s appointments. He said the board was already engaged in strategic planning when the law passed and the board felt it was best to deal quickly with the Legislature’s requirements, “to get this behind us one way or the other.”