Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hospital Authority

Meridian & the LSHA: Meridian – Will It Answer Questions & Listen to the Public About Its Planned Renovation of the Vacated Auth Hosp?

On the docket tonight at 6 pm at the School Bd Admin Bldg.
If Meridian’s top echelon can’t answer the public’s questions and deal with the public's comments, who can?

Gorilla with headline: Meridian & the 800 lb. gorilla in the room
Photo: Alexas Fotos via Pexels | Columbia County Observer graphic

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This evening, after over two years of foot-dragging by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board and its Part Time Manager Dale Williams, a concrete plan for the vacated Shands at Lake Shore Hospital will again be presented by Meridian Behavioral Services. The Authority workshop begins at 6 pm and is being held at the School Board Administrative complex on US 90.

The meeting is carried on Zoom.


As misreported today by the County's mainstream official newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, Meridian is not the "newest potential tenant at the Lake Shore Hospital campus."

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority’s Shands at Lake Shore Hospital has been vacant since October 2020. It is now 2023. Over the past two-plus years, the Authority has spent over $2 million of the public's money keeping the vacated hospital and Authority campus running.

Young woman with head in hands with caption: There is a world wide mental health crisis. Some Lake City merchants are saying: Not in my backyard.In June 2022, Meridian made its first definitive proposal for the vacated Authority hospital. Downtown merchants and members of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce were opposed to Meridian operating a hospital that dealt with substance abuse (which includes alcohol, widely promoted and available in the downtown). While some of these folk articulated their views to Authority Manager Dale Williams, none had the fortitude to connect their objections to their names. Manager Williams kept their names confidential.

However, at that time, many of the County's leading citizens spoke in favor of Meridian operating the hospital.

See: Lake Shore Hospital Authority: Tonight, Governor’s Board To Hear Hospital Proposal from Meridian Behavioral Health Care

Some residents in Lake City’s District 10 were opposed to outpatient drug and substance abuse in the area. Community activist and former drug kingpin Sylvester Warren said this would bring drug dealers to the area.

Tonight's meeting, originally planned to be a forum in which the board members were warned not to speak, has become what it should have been in the beginning, a board workshop. This will enable the Governor's illegally constituted board to ask questions and participate in the proceedings.

Trustees Beil and Douglas have toured the Meridian Gainesville campus, as have Authority Manager Williams and FGC President Barrett. Board members Don Kennedy and Lory Chancy have not.

Trustees Chancy and Kennedy would have found this had they toured the campus.

See: Meridian tour

The Eight-Hundred-pound Gorilla in the Room:
Outpatient Methadone and Vivitrol Dispensing

Last night your reporter asked Meridian CEO Don Savoie about drug dispensing at the proposed Meridian facility at the Authority.

Your reporter asked, “There’s been a lot of talk and pushback regarding outpatient care in the Authority facility. What are Meridian’s plans?”

Link to Meridian proposal: Page numbers added by the ObserverMr. Savoie responded, "We are not going to operate a Methadone clinic or a Vivitrol clinic. It makes no sense to use a hospital for outpatient care. We're going to take the inpatient care that we have on our current Lake City campus, which we have outgrown, and it is coming to the hospital. That gives us room to expand medication-assisted outpatient treatment at our Michigan Avenue campus.”

Mr. Savoie reiterated, "Our outpatient and medication-assisted clinics will continue to exist at our Michigan Avenue campus."

Your reporter followed up, “So, if I understand, the hospital campus, should the Board decide to donate it to Meridian, will not be an outpatient drug dispensary.”

Mr. Savoie: “Exactly.”

Other Issues: FGC & FGC and Meridian

FGC President Larry Barrett
FGC President Larry Barrett.   (file)

Your reporter contacted FGC President Larry Barrett, who responded to questions via email.

Your reporter asked via text message: “As the college president, do you support Meridian occupying the vacated LSHA [hospital]?”

Dr. Barrett wrote [abridged]: “The college will remain neutral on the proposal regarding Meridian. The college trustees never voted or directed me to cease negotiations regarding our proposal. The Hospital Authority Board was not interested in our proposal. We (FGC) moved on to expand our health programs and facilities without the hospital building.”

Dr. Barrett continued observing the goings on at the Authority and following Meridian.

Dr. Barrett explained, “I continued to read and hear that the college would not reach out to Meridian to partner with them. Based on the new Meridian proposal and the continued statements that I would not get back to them, I reached out to Meridian and began a discussion and requested a meeting.”

“Last week, I visited the Meridian campus in Gainesville and spent about two hours with personnel there. If Meridian moves into the Lake Shore Hospital Building, the college will provide them with training needs in partnership with them.”

College President Barrett is set to be the next president of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

Your reporter asked Dr. Barrett, "Has the Chamber or any of its members taken a position on the Meridian proposal to occupy the vacated hospital?"

Dr. Barrett answered, “I have attended almost every board meeting for the past two years. At no time has the discussion been brought up about Meridian.”

Meeting Format

Meridian will make its presentation again. A few more slides were added to the slide deck from its previous presentation. There will be a break for folks to write down their questions, which will be filtered by former Chamber President and FGC’s Ex. Communications Director and Lake City Reporter crony Mike McKee, who was invited to moderate by Part-Time Authority Manager Williams.

Mr. McKee has demonstrated questionable behavior in the past. See:  Integrity Challenged: FGC's McKee Kept College Pres Unaware of Uninvited Forum Candidates - Pt I.

Epilogue: Meridian Behavioral Services,
Face to Face With the Public – Its Chance to Shine

CEO Savoie explained that he didn't want his staff mugged by questions or statements from the audience, which is the reason for the written questions.

Attending the workshop will be some of Meridian's top echelon. These people with advanced educations deal with crises, high finance, human relations, and complex situations all the time.

If Meridian’s top echelon can’t answer the public’s questions and deal with the public's comments, who can?

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