Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hospital Authority

LSHA Pt-III: Governor's Board Ignores Meridian Proposal, Considers Bulldozing Lake Shore Hosp

Authority meets tonight at 5:15

Photo of demolotion site: "LSHA: Governor's Board ignores Meridian's proposal to acquire hospital for mental health facility, prefers demolition
Photo: Derek Lee via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – A 12th-hour request from an unnamed Lake Shore Hospital Authority Governor's Board member had respondents who wanted to use the vacated Lake Shore Hospital scrambling.

Part III of this series is about the June 23 Authority meeting, which began two years ago on July 10, 2020, when the Governor's Board was advised that Community Health Systems (CHS) was winding down its operation and vacating the Authority's Lake Shore Hospital.

Under the leadership of the Board's part-time Executive Director, Dale Williams, and Board Chairman, Brandon Beil, the Authority has never worked out a plan to deal with the empty hospital and loss of revenue. Instead they and the Board have been flying by the seat of their pants from month to month – meeting to meeting.

Any discussion of dissolving the Authority had been avoided, although outside of the meetings the subject is discussed.

Until recently, the Authority has collectively acted like they were out for a family sunshine stroll around Lake DeSoto. Now it is rushing to do something to burnish its sagging reputation.

The June 23 LSHA Agenda

The Authority’s agenda called for a discussion of the submitted proposals from Hope Bridges, FGC, and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.

Sometime during the week of June 13, an "unnamed" trustee wanted to know if any proposers who wanted to utilize the hospital could do it without money or financial support from the Authority.

On June 17, Mike Peacock (Hope Bridges) changed his proposal for the vacant hospital to what is a one-sentence "Expression of Interest" to use the hospital building "as a transitional housing facility for veterans." There was no explanation.

Mr. Peacock wrote that Hope Bridges wants all the vacated hospital's assets, which would include the inventory. That is problematic, as Director Williams’ inventory of the hospital assets is unprofessional, incomplete, and was never valued.

Mr. Peacock proposed the Authority give or nominally lease the vacant hospital to Hope Bridges.

Director Williams has never suggested an appraisal of the vacant hospital, and one has not been done.

Meridian Behavioral Health Care:
Meridian’s Proposals Avoided Like the Plague

Meridian’s CEO Don Savoie spoke with Director Williams on June 16 about utilizing the hospital without money or financial support from the Authority.

On June 17, Mr. Savoie forwarded his response via email to Director Williams.

Meridian email-screenshotDirector Williams claimed he never received it. A screenshot of Mr. Savoie's email clearly shows that Meridian's correspondence was sent on June 17. Meridian received nothing that indicated the email could not be delivered.

Mr. Savoie's correspondence begins: "From our conversation you were inquiring for one of the trustee's if there is a way that Meridian would be agreeable to utilize the LSA Hospital building and surrounding grounds without the need for additional financial support from the Lakeshore Authority, including facility expense to bring the building to occupancy status."

Director Williams provided Meridian’s response to the Board  leaving off any indication that the Meridian response was sent via email or the time and date that it was received.

Meridian returned to its earlier proposal asking for the property, which it would repair and license.

Meridian had previously presented a proposal to the Authority. According to CEO Savoie, that proposal is estimated to cost about $4,000 to produce. Meridian also is in the process of obtaining an engineering study of the vacant hospital, a study which is estimated to cost $35,000.

During the June 23 meeting, the Board avoided the Meridian proposal like a smallpox epidemic, never mentioning word one. CEO Savoie and COO Lauren Cohn were in attendance to answer any questions. Neither Mike Peacock (Hope Bridges) nor anyone from FGC attended the Board meeting.

The Governor's Board did not inquire of Meridian.

Director Dale Williams and Florida Gateway College

According to Director Williams, he called College President Barrett on the President's cell phone. He neither sent a text nor an email after discovering President Barrett's voice mail box was full. Director Williams did not reveal when he called President Barrett. If he called on Friday, the College was closed. According to President Barrett, he saw no indication of any missed calls from Director Williams.

In the meantime, Director Williams told the Authority Board and the mainstream print media that President Barrett was not returning his phone calls.

President Barrett informed your reporter, “He never contacted me. He (Director Williams) said he tried me on Friday and Monday [a national and local holiday – Juneteenth].”

It appears President Barrett called Director Williams on Tuesday, June 22. President Barrett spoke with Director Williams and prepared a 12th-hour letter dated June 23.

President Barrett said just taking the hospital is very complicated and gave three items he felt would have to be in the agreement.

Raze the Hospital: The Word Was On the Street

The cat was out of the bag, and the word was on the street: somebody during the June 23 Authority meeting was going to be recommending bulldozing the building.

Both Hope Bridges and Meridian said they would take the building as is. Meridian’s use was clear: Mental Health.

There was a discussion about bulldozing the building.

Community activist, businessman, and real estate investor Sylvester Warren, an acknowledged expert in the drug trade and its effects, spoke against keeping the hospital standing and recommended bulldozing it. Meridian's proposal included in-hospital and out-patient drug treatment.

Board member Chancy, a believer in public health, ignored the Meridian proposal, which also included a walk-in clinic for anyone, and motioned to obtain bids to bulldoze the hospital.

Board member Douglas seconded the motion: it was unanimous.

Board member Douglas also ignored the Meridian proposal to bring expanded mental health care and a walk-in clinic to the hospital and moved that the Board's attorney, and its accountant-auditor-financial advisor (all one person) sit down with Hope Bridges and figure out what the June 17 Hope Bridges letter actually meant.

Epilogue: Disregard of Meridian Smacks of Collusion

Part-time Executive Director Williams' lack of written documentation to acquire additional information from Hope Bridges, FGC, and Meridian is pregnant. Hope Bridges was the only interested party who managed to get their requested proposal to the Authority without outside intervention and confusion.

The Governor’s Board’s total disregard of Meridian’s offer to take over the hospital at no cost to the taxpayers, and consider bulldozing it instead, smacks of collusion.

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