Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

Lake Shore Hospital Authority

LSHA: Gov's. Bd. Hears Third Hospital Proposal. Meridian Will Provide Everything from Inpatient Care to Counseling – Drug Rehab to Primary Care

Part II - The Presentation

Photo: Dollar Gill via Unsplash  |   Columbia County Observer graphic

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Monday night at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority brought Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in front of the Governor's appointed Board. Meridian has been providing mental health care services in the region for 50 years and wants to bring an enhanced level of care to Columbia County.

Florida is ranked 48th nationwide on access to mental health care.


At the end of Monday’s meeting, Part-Time Dir. Williams said it was "lies" that the Authority was dragging its feet, as was pubished on June 13, adding that COVID caused the delays.

On May 27, 2020, Lake Shore Hospital Authority Executive Director Dale Williams knew that CHS, the folks that leased the hospital, was going to vacate it and buy out their lease. During that evening's meeting, neither Mr. Williams nor any of the Governor’s Board members mentioned one word. According to Mr. Williams, the Board knew CHS was leaving a week before the May 27, 2020, meeting.

LSHA Chairman Brandon Beil
Gov's. Board Chairman Brandon Beil.

Shands at Lake Shore, the hospital the Lake Shore Hospital Authority has leased for decades, has been vacant since October 2020.

Since then, the Authority has spent well over a million dollars maintaining the empty hospital.

Under the leadership of Chairman Brandon Beil and the part-time Executive Director, the Governor's Board has yet to appraise the hospital.

The Authority has put out two rounds of Requests for Proposals or statements of interest for its hospital and other buildings.

Meridian Makes Its Pitch

VP/COO Lauren Cohn (standing) made the Meridian presentation.

CEO Don Savoie began his presentation: "I've come before you guys a few times now… I've brought my team with me so we can try and answer your questions on the spot... We have a lot of longevity in the organization, and we're proud of that because we are part of this community."

Link to Meridian proposal: Page numbers added by the ObserverMr. Savoie handed the helm over to Meridian’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lauren Cohn, who went through the Meridian Proposal. (The Meridian proposal is in an external link).

The presentation provided a little of the history of Meridian.

Meridian has been providing services in North Central Florida since 1971, and in 2022, “Meridian celebrates 50 years of operations and continues to grow to meet the ever-growing needs of our communities.”

Meridian provides services utilizing evidence-based approaches to treating mental illnesses and substance use disorder. Its services also address the social determinants that adversely affect healthcare outcomes, such as housing, employment, and medical care.

Meridian currently has offices in 13 counties and provides services to residents from almost all of Florida.

Outreach and treatment services touch over 36,000 annually.

Last year Meridian spent over $55 million and employed 650 people.

Ms. Cohn explained the gamut of Meridian’s services which range from mental health outpatient and inpatient care to crisis intervention, diversion, recovery and prevention, veteran’s services, psychological rehab, and aftercare.

Ms. Cohn went through the County needs assessment prepared by WellFlorida, which pointed out that "in 2017, Columbia County residents visited emergency rooms for mental health reasons at rates higher than for the state as a whole."

Merdian ServicesShe said that the last two years have led to an increase in people seeking help for mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression.

Ms. Cohn pointed out that Meridian has about as many licenses and accreditations as an organization of its type could have and that Meridian has been accredited for over 17 years in behavioral and opioid treatment programs.

Meridian's licenses also include six from the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) for Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU), residential treatment facilities, and healthcare clinics.

Meridian provides numerous services to Columbia County adults and children, and Ms. Cohn explained them.

She also said that Meridian is conscious of the quality of its own outcomes and provided information that shows recovery rates and satisfaction with Meridian's services. According to Meridian's figures, 96% of those surveyed would recommend Meridian to others.

Meridian’s Plans for the Hospital

Ms. Cohn explained that Meridian plans to use the 117,000 sq. ft. in the hospital for inpatient and residential care.

Meridian provided detailed floor plans for each of the hospital's four floors, showing where the different units in the hospital would be located.

Key on the first floor is the new addictions receiving unit, which provides medically supervised withdrawal with an average stay of five days. This is a short-term acute care detoxification and stabilization facility for adults with significant substance impairment or mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The first floor would include primary care, a pharmacy, a staff and visitor cafeteria, and a patient kitchen.

The other floors include space for short-term residential treatment, longer-term residential treatment with an average stay of six months, office space, an inpatient psychiatric suite, a community mental health Center, and supporter services for veteran families.

CEO Don SavoieCEO Savoie: The Hospital Model
It's the Right Time for This Community

Mr. Savoie said:

The model is the model that aligns with the growth in the County in the region. Regionally this is a hub, and Meridian is expanding to meet the needs. We're now in Baker County; we just purchased property in Marion County and Putnam County based on need, and we're growing. We have to grow the center of excellence up within our hubs. Lake City and Gainesville are the hubs of the services that we provide. Adding hospitalization – adding addictions receiving -- it's the right time for this community. [abridged]

The Board

LSHA Board member Don Kennedy
Board member Don Kennedy ponders the Meridian proposal.

There were not many questions from the Board.

The Board's newest member Don Kennedy asked a few questions, seeming most interested in what Meridian was doing in Gainesville.

The Board's construction expert, Stephen Douglas, was having difficulty studying the 12th-hour presentation and preparing his questions on the fly.

The presentation was hand-delivered to the meeting shortly before it got underway.

Veteran Board member Lory Chancy didn’t have any questions.

LSHA Board Member Stephen Douglas
The 12-hour delivery of the Meridian presentation had Board member Stephen Douglas fumbling to word his questions.

Richard Powell, the Authority's long-time accountant -- internal auditor – external auditor – financial advisor (yes, all one person) broke in from time to time asking about the number of Meridian employees, which was explained on page 16 of the presentation.

As the meeting wound down, Board Chairman Brandon Beil allowed the public to address the Board.

In the past, Mr. Beil allowed questions. Lately, he has announced that the public should not ask questions, and questions asked are not answered.


Many of Columbia County's leaders have come out in support of Meridian occupying the vacated Authority-owned hospital.

Those that are not in favor have been mainly lurking in the shadows.

Former drug dealer and community activist Sylvester Warren is against the Meridian proposal. His views and those of the LCPD Chief Butler are in part II.

Part III:  Meridian - The Opposition (comming tommorow)

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