JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM

Panel proposed to watch over $830 million in public funds for Jackson improvements

 

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The oversight committee would be made up of nine volunteers with a variety of professional experience.


dchang@MiamiHerald.com

An emergency medical professional, an engineer, a real estate developer, a lawyer, an architect, an accountant and a financier.

Those are the types of people a Miami-Dade commissioner is proposing for a citizens’ panel to watch over $830 million in public money approved by voters last year to upgrade Jackson Health System.

The oversight committee proposed by Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson will be made up of nine volunteers with a variety of professional experience, according to a draft ordinance scheduled for a first reading by the full County Commission Feb. 19.

Creating the watchdog committee fulfills a campaign promise made by Edmonson and others during the run-up to November’s referendum on public financing for renovations, equipment upgrades and new construction that Jackson’s leaders believe will attract more insured patients to the county’s public hospital network. Insured patients help pay for the uninsured and indigent patients whom the hospital serves.

With nearly $1 billion in potential contracts at stake, Edmonson said she wants to assure the public that the money — which comes from a property tax increase — will be protected from undue influence.

None of the public funds for Jackson have been used yet.

“What I’m hoping to accomplish is to keep politics out of this board,” Edmonson said Friday. “I’m looking for a board that will be astute enough to catch something if by chance the funds are not being spent correctly for their intended use.

“One thing that I want is to remain as transparent as possible,’’ she said.

Miami-Dade voters overwhelmingly approved the $830 million bond measure, on the strength of a campaign that raised nearly $2 million in four months and promised a laundry list of improvements to the county’s aging public hospital network.

Among the projects promised during the campaign but not spelled out in the ballot language were: a new rehabilitation hospital, millions of dollars worth of new medical equipment and computer systems to track patient records.

The ballot language did name three specific project areas: emergency rooms, a pediatric outpatient center and urgent care centers throughout the community.

Carlos Migoya, Jackson’s chief executive, vowed the day after the election to launch an open-access website where residents can track the projects and expenditures of Jackson’s ambitious overhaul. The website has yet to be launched, said Ed O’Dell, a Jackson spokesman who said Jackson officials were waiting for the oversight board to be created.

“When completed, we will be able to move forward with our promised transparency that includes a website detailing our progress,” he wrote in a statement.

Edmonson said she expects her colleagues will give initial approval to the proposal but may want to make some changes before final approval.

“I’m sure some of my colleagues will probably have some good amendments,’’ she said.

Commissioner Juan Zapata, who opposed the Jackson bond referendum, said the committee needs to have the ability to do more than just watch over funds. It should be empowered to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget.

“It creates the appearance that there’s oversight,’’ he said. “I’m not sure the mechanics are there to ensure that there’s oversight.”

Edmonson said her office already has received résumés from interested applicants.

“But we’re also receiving calls from various politicians,’’ she said, without naming names, “and this is my reason for putting specific skills on there — because I want this to not be political.’’

The committee would be charged with monitoring the public’s money and periodically reporting to the County Commission, mayor and the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson.

Under Edmonson’s proposal, the oversight committee would include five members appointed by the County Commission from a list of nominees presented by the Public Health Trust. The remaining four members also would require ratification by the commission, but those candidates would be nominated as follows: a financier to be designated by the president of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities; a manager to be selected by the county mayor; a licensed attorney chosen by the chair of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation; and a medical or healthcare professional named by Jackson’s labor unions.

The panel will review all proposals by the Public Health Trust to use the public funds for Jackson. But Edmonson wants the hospital’s governing board to fill its own vacancies before making any significant recommendations for the new panel.

One of seven seats on the Public Health Trust has been vacant since June, and two more are scheduled to turn over this year.

“I am very concerned,’’ Edmonson said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve already expressed that to the chair — that they need to bring the nominating committee back together so that those issues can be addressed.’’

The board’s chairman, Darryl Sharpton, could not be reached for comment Friday. No meeting of the nominating committee is scheduled on the Public Health Trust’s calendar.

But Marcos Lapciuc, a former board chair who has announced that he will step down after his term ends in June, said he is considering all options to help his colleagues navigate the next, significant phase for Jackson.

“The smaller board has worked admirably,’’ Lapciuc said, “but it is important to get a full roster of seven members. I look forward to staying engaged with and helping Jackson in any capacity possible.’’

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