Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hospital Authority

LSHA: Meridian Behavioral Services On the Docket Tonight. Looking Past the Meridian Glitz & Outsized Salaries, Is It Providing Quality Services & Care?

Meridian Behavorial Health Care: is there something else going on?
Photo: Junior Karrick DJIKOUNOU via Pexels | Columbia County Observer graphic

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – After three years of foot-dragging and approximately $3 million spent maintaining empty buildings, the final chapter in the history of the vacated Shands At Lake Shore Hospital may be written this evening. It has not been a pretty picture for the Governor’s Board or the Authority Manager, Dale Williams.


In October 2020, after months of fair warning, Community Health Systems (CHS) walked away from its lease of the Shands At Lake Shore Hospital.

Records show that in June of 2020, CHS claimed $19 mil in losses for the prior four years, including $24 million in capital expenditures; CHS did not believe the County population required two hospitals; the average daily bed count in the hospital was 24. The hospital had a 99-bed capacity.

Under the leadership of Authority Manager Dale Williams, the Authority requested statements of interest in July 2020. Responses that came in late were accepted anyway.

Most of the responders were looking to tap into the Authority bank books for public financing of their proposals. None panned out.

In February 2022, another RFP was let. Authority Manager Williams failed to put a line for a response date on the response form.

One of the responders was Meridian Behavioral Services. Meridian CEO Don Savoie responded with an undated proposal whose format was unprofessional and extremely difficult to read and decipher at best.

Over time, Meridian was "the last man left standing" who offered to use the hospital. Meridian's final proposal called for the Authority to deed the hospital to Meridian. Meridian would pay to renovate the hospital as a mental health facility. Other than those who cried about NIMBY, no one denied that there was a mental health crisis all across America, Lake City/Columbia County included, and for the last seven months, at great expense to the taxpayers, the Authority's lawyers, and those of Meridian have been negotiating.

Tonight, the Board is scheduled to vote on the agreement.

Meridian review

The Question:
Is Meridian Delivering Quality Mental Health Care in Lake City?

Recently, this reporter has been receiving calls with horror stories about Meridian’s quality of care, its lack of employee recommendations and difficulty finding staff, and a public relations malaise, “Why are people saying bad things about us,” of which Meridian is researching and trying to solve.

While it is true that Meridian’s Gainesville facility is a model of cleanliness and order, see the Observer tour, when one takes off the tuxedo, it is not a pretty sight.

From the highest levels of government and mental health professionals, the Observer has had adverse reports regarding the quality of care of minors, school children, and adults.

Some of Meridian’s clients and their parents have begun calling the Observer. It has not been good.

Meridian 990 highest paid employees

First: A Not-for-Profit
Meridian Spreads Its Wealth To Its Top Brass

A review of Meridian’s IRS filings shows that Meridian is not stingy with the money it receives, most of which comes through the public. This year’s County budget shows a $261,376 taxpayer contribution; last year's $256,000, or over a-half-a-million dollars in two years.

The County 5 have never required financial statements from Meridian or investigated the quality of Meridian’s care in the County.

The last four years of remuneration for Meridian's highest-paid employees is in the spreadsheet above. This does not include all the people making over $100,000 a year, just the ones Meridian lists on a separate schedule of the highest paid.

Tonia Werner, whose title varies, is listed as the VP of Medical Services – CMO earns $609,088. ($43,090 is listed as a “bonus and incentive”).

CEO Don Savoie, the person folks are familiar with at the Authority, earned $265,860 last year; of that was bonus-incentive money of $1,631, down from $26,500 the previous year.

Employee Reviews

A review of employee Indeed (a job search/review firm) reviews about Meridian is not inspiring. Some that work there give Meridian 5-star reviews, and a group of 5 stars looked like a concerted effort by Meridian to enhance its image.

Former employees were not so generous. One October 2023 review was headlined "Negative Environment for Clients and Staff." The rest of the review reflects those this reporter has heard from those who have experienced Meridian from both sides: "Ill-equipped staff; little professional knowledge or skill; no treatment for clients; just shuffling clients around appearing to provide help and treatment. Would not recommend anyone seek help there or to work there.”

You can access more Meridian Lake City reviews here. It is not pretty.

Client Reviews

Clients with whom the Observer spoke were universally uncomplimentary, and their parents were equally uncomplimentary.

One patient, who self-admitted because she felt suicidal, told your reporter that Meridian refused to give her her schizophrenia medication. She also mentioned she found a knife underneath her mattress and that men could walk into her room.

This ability of men to walk into women's rooms was not a lone complaint, as was the inability to receive prescribed medication.

The complaints go on and on. The compliments are difficult to find unless they come from Meridian itself.


In the land of slick, see Meridian's over-produced latest production – where are the clients? While Meridian’s big-wigs pat themselves on the back, its success stories are nowhere to be found.

Tonight, before the Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board gives away the taxpayer-owned hospital, it should ask why.

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