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Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

Lakeshore Hosp Authority: To sell or not to sell the hospital. HMA is in the driver's seat

Board members reinventing history


2009: Board Chair Marc Vann gives a plaque to past Chair Jack Berry (right). By December of 2009, neither Vann nor Berry had ever mentioned selling the Hospital. In October Berry resigned and was hired a few months later to the paid position of Authority Manager.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Monday night, the Lakeshore Hospital Authority met for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting. For weeks, the talk on the street was that the Board would be discussing selling the hospital. A look at the Authority agenda only mentioned an item called planning for the future. As if on cue, eleven minutes into the meeting, Authority General Manager Jack Berry told the Board, "I think the time has arrived in the medical industry for the taxpayers to seriously consider gettin' out of the healthcare business."

The Lakeshore Hospital Authority, a creature created by the Florida Legislature, was ignored for years until the Observer began its coverage in 2008. As the coverage increased, the reputation of the Authority diminished. Many folks questioned the need for a county owned hospital. In 2010, with Shands, who was leasing the hospital from the Authority losing over a million dollars a year, the Authority had an opportunity to sell the hospital. It didn't. Instead, in a questionable sweetheart deal, the Authority, then under the chairmanship of Marc Vann, decided to lease the Hospital to HMA, a for profit corporation.

This past Monday night, Board member Vann began telling anyone who would listen that he was in favor of selling the hospital. He wasn't the only one.

General Manager Berry, who began the ill fated Authority land acquisition debacle continued, "With the purchase of HMA to CHS commin' up the first quarter of the year, I think this board needs to take a serious thought about attempting to sell this hospital and get it out of the taxpayer's burden."

Keeping the public in the dark

While the discussion had been going on for weeks, the agenda was prepared without any mention that the sale of the hospital was going to be brought up.

General Manager Berry continued, "I've heard several board members mention it and I figured it's time to get it out here in the open and get everybody's view on it."

GM Berry explained that the Board would have to hire a consultant; put out an RFP (a request for proposal) that would "go to everybody and then you can make an intelligent decision about it."

GM Berry explained that he and his staff, now down to two full timers, were meeting with a Federal Navigator the next day and that the Navigator was going to explain the program.

The one and a quarter million dollar Taj Mahal headquarters of the Authority has two underutilized meeting rooms on its second-floor. General Manager Berry invited no one to attend and the governor appointed board didn't bring it up.

GM Berry explained further, "It's not clear if all our patients will fit under that program (Obama Care) "I can't seem to get any answers from anybody."

Board Member Stephen Douglas inquired, "Have we talked to some state officials, Gov. Scott and some of his people to find out where he sees the hospital authority boards going and the facilities that hospital authority boards run and operate?"

GM Berry gave a simplistic and hazy explanation of the Governor's Commission appointed to review taxpayer funded Hospital Districts. He said, "The Gov. appointed a select committee when he first got into office to determine the viability of taxpayer hospital districts. Basically they came back – Of course, their recommendation is to get em' out of the taxpayer hands, which is logical. That's what they were designed to do, was to come up with that idea."

Not exactly. The final report is here.

In Columbia County It's Always About the Good Ole Boys

Then, responding to Mr. Douglas's request for help, GM Berry said, "I think a couple of board members maybe know somebody that's in this area that maybe -- would be willing to come and talk to us... prior to us getting involved it. What do you think Marc (Vann)?"

Board Member Vann responded, "... A good friend of mine, that actually used to be an attorney for HCA [the folks that own Lake City Medical Center], he and some other people left -- started their own hospital acquisition Company and got some pretty good advice from him back then, when we first initially started renegotiatin' the lease as far as with HMA comin' into play. I've already actually spoken to him a little bit just after my meeting with the governor a year ago. There is no doubt that part of my reappointment was the fact that a year ago I expressed very specifically to the governor that private hospitals didn't need to be bein' supported by tax money. And he agreed with that completely."

There is no record of Mr. Vann expressing that "private hospitals didn't need to be bein' supported by tax money," in any record of the Authority that the Observer has been able to locate. Nor does the Observer recall ever having heard Mr. Vann say this anywhere.

Mr. Vann mentioned that his unnamed friend "Would fly down here and give us a little presentation on how to start the process... He would fly down one weekend when were gonna have a board meetin' and come in and just give us some ideas on how you would start."

Suddenly, past Chairman Vann is in favor of "sellin'" the hospital

Mr. Vann, who was the Chairman during the time HMA was negotiating a restated and reassigned lease with the Authority announced, "I've been an advocate for sellin' it since the second meetin' I attended about seven years ago. That's my opinion. To take the burden off the taxpayers and let the thing pay its way."

Even after HMA agreed to spend $6,000,000 of its own money on renovations to the hospital, Mr. Vann approved another $2,000,000 of public money be given to HMA for hospital renovations.

Newly appointed board member, Tim Murphy, asked if the money made from selling the hospital could be put into a fund to support indigent care.

GM Berry reentered the conversation, "With CHS buying HMA, now is the time, if we are ever going to think about this. The Governor has also expressed that he would be willing to point us in the right directions, not as a governor, but as him."

The man that ended questions at the Authority – an epiphany


Koby Adams thinking in 2011.

Board member Koby Adams, former Authority Chairman, and Representative Elizabeth Porter's Chief of Staff, the man that ended questions from residents and a supporter of the ban on photographs of the Board doing its public business had recently had an epiphany.

Mr. Adams told the Board, "I think the Hospital Authority has outlived its usefulness. When I had my interview with the governor he asked me what I didn't like about the Authority and I told him that I didn't like the idea that we can tax the people of Columbia County and we're not elected -- we are not answerable to them, we're answerable directly to him. It's time we get out of the business. Let's get the ball rolling. I am all about it."

The Observer has been unable to locate anything close to Mr. Adams's remarks in any public record of the Authority and has never heard those sentiments before.

Mr. Murphy added, "I'm a hundred percent for it. The governor said he would offer up any assistance.... I can't believe that this is not a perfect time."

The Columbia County Good Ole Boy Solution

General Manager Berry turned to Mr. Vann, "Do you think you can get your buddy to come down here and help us in November?"

Mr. Vann answered, "I can call him."

GM Berry was barely audible when he asked Mr. Vann about paying the "air fare down here" for his friend.

Mr. Vann answered, "Not unless he changes his tunes."

Board member Lori Chancy is the only Board member opposed to selling the hospital. Her decision appears not to be a political decision, but a heartfelt one in which she believes in the role of a public hospital.

Epilogue

Columbia County's Governor Appointed Board, most of who seem to be enamored with Governor Scott, is not talking about the Authority Lease between HMA and the Authority, which gives HMA the right to assign the lease and put the kibosh on any deal to sell the Hospital.

With all the Columbia County Good Ole Boy bluster, HMA is in the driver's seat.

Due to the recent photo ban, file photos used.

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