A union-financed flier blasting “the great Jackson Hospital giveaway” is ratcheting up the already intense debate about outsourcing doctor services at Jackson Health System’s emergency rooms and the spinoff argument about how much politicians and taxpayers should be able to influence the system’s operations.
“Miami-Dade politicians and their politically connected friends are at it again,” says the flier, appearing in mailboxes of about 1.2 million voters throughout the county. “They have collected BILLIONS of our tax dollars to run Jackson Memorial Hospital. Now they want to sell off the very heart of our public hospital, the people’s hospital.”
The flier says it comes from a group called Our Jackson, with no other identifying information except a website, ourjackson.org. The flier does not mention SEIU Local 1991, which represents Jackson’s nurses and other healthcare professionals.
On Thursday, SEIU spokeswoman Jennifer LaMont acknowledged that the local is financing the flier and Our Jackson effort. “The nurses and doctors at Jackson are committed to informing the public about their public hospital and are funding a campaign to do so.”
The flier refers to a proposal last month from Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya to explore whether outsourcing certain clinical services in Jackson’s ERs — including the rape treatment center — would save money and improve services.
Jackson spokesman Edwin O’Dell on Thursday called the flier “misinformation being spread while cloaked in anonymity.”
He called Migoya’s proposal to ask private companies to bid on a contract to supply the ER services “a fact-finding mission. No decision has been made. Nothing will be sold. No one will be denied access. No third party will set policy for care. And nothing will be done to alter or compromise our mission.”
SEIU local President Martha Baker said the union isn’t conducting a stealth campaign. “We’ve been very open about our opposition to privatizing the ER.” She didn’t reveal how much the flier cost but said it was being sent to all Miami-Dade registered voters.
Migoya has said the privatization could affect 46 full-time employees — 29 physicians, 16 nurse practitioners and one physician’s assistant.
Still, 30 speakers, including three county commissioners, showed up at a Jackson board meeting last week to complain about Migoya’s proposal. Commissioner Barbara Jordan sat through almost six hours of discussion, twice telling the board she feared that the ER move “is a backdoor approach to the full privatization of Jackson.”
Jordan and other speakers said Migoya has a responsibility to Miami-Dade taxpayers not to spend their money on for-profit companies that would likely ignore the needs of the poor and uninsured who crowd Jackson’s ERs.
This week, Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, noted that public hospitals contract with for-profit companies all the time — for drugs, surgical supplies, testing equipment and such. She said Migoya should be able to do what’s best for Jackson: “They’re not selling the institution. They’re issuing an RFP [request for proposals] to look for someone with more experience at running an ER. Public hospitals all over the country outsource their emergency rooms.”
She called the atmosphere surrounding the proposal “harassment of the leadership” and noted that “politicians already have substantial influence” because elected county commissioners approve Jackson’s annual budget and appoint Jackson’s board.
But Baker said her union, which campaigned hard in the early 1990s for the half-penny sales tax to support Jackson, had “promised then we would be watchdogs on the inside, and we are.”
Jackson gets more than $300 million a year from sales and property tax revenue — meaning it has received billions over the years, as the flier says.
The four also says that “Migoya, the millionaire banker who earns more than $800,000 a year to run Jackson, wants to sell the Emergency Room and Rape Treatment Center to the highest bidder.”
Migoya, a career banker before becoming Jackson’s CEO last year, has a contract for $590,000 a year in base salary, a benefits package of $107,121 and possible bonuses up to $295,000. Migoya has said previously he would donate any bonus this year to the Jackson Memorial Foundation.
Migoya said last week that most of the rape treatment center’s staff would remain Jackson employees. At most, a doctor or nurse practitioner from an outside company might examine and treat a rape victim, he said.
The flier urges voters to complain to Migoya, giving his office phone number and Jackson email. Spokesman O’Dell said Migoya has been getting about 10 phone calls a day as a result of the flier and about 25 emails over the past week.
The ER privatization debate continued to simmer at a County Commission budget hearing Thursday evening. Jordan proposed that the commission approve a motion tied to Jackson’s budget that would forbid any privatization efforts but Chairman Joe Martinez didn’t like the idea.
“I’m leery of tying it to the budget, because of the unintended consequences it may have,” he said.
Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said Jackson’s plans were turning political. He mentioned that he had received the anti-privatization flier in the mail.
“Keeping the politics out of Jackson?” Jordan later fired back. “I wish that was possible.”
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.