Fishermen’s Hospital board member Brian Schmidt said closing Marathon’s hospital is simply not an option.
Schmidt, who also chairs the board’s Options Committee, debriefed the city council Tuesday evening on the group’s efforts to keep the facility open past the July 14, 2011 expiration of a lease agreement with Health Management Associates.
Fishermen’s Hospital opened in 1959 after several local citizens, including Schmidt’s father, Allen, formed a not-for-profit group two years prior. After more than two decades in operation, Schmidt told the council that as the business of healthcare changed, operating the facility became increasingly more complicated and expensive.
In 1986, Fishermen’s entered into a lease with HMA, and the organization paid the hospital’s outstanding debts and upgraded the dilapidated facilities to the tune of more than $2.5 million. Schmidt admitted that over the course of the last two decades, the hospital’s relationship with the management firm had become strained. He commended current CEO Kim Bassett for her work in repairing relations and running the facility.
He continued that the only option, speaking on behalf of the board, is to make certain the hospital remains open. Schmidt also took the opportunity to clarify rumors regarding a possible special tax for middle Keys residents.
“We don’t want to hold anyone to another tax,” Schmidt said. “I want to have an open and honest discussion about whether the community will support our hospital.”
Councilman Dick Ramsay told Schmidt at the conclusion of his presentation that though he was left with too many questions to begin discussion during that meeting, he suggested scheduling a public meeting for residents to ask questions about the hospital’s future.
After recounting unsuccessful negotiations with Baptist Health South Florida to take over the hospital, Schmidt said the board is open to talks with “anybody and everybody” regarding the hospital’s future management.
“They did not move forward with us because they didn’t see our hospital as one that would bring money to the table,” Schmidt said. “Money is the issue.”
He added that though Fishermen’s is currently operating with no outstanding debts – “We own our hospital free and clear,” he told the council – the facility only has roughly a million dollars in the bank.
“It’s not enough to run a hospital,” he lamented.
Councilman Pete Worthington cautioned Schmidt that he would have a “tough time” selling the idea of a new tax to residents in the current economic climate to which Schmidt replied that he was not eagerly anticipating the task.
In other business:
• After recent discussions to resolve stalled development agreements within the city limits, Barron Chandler of Key Colony Bay Development, LLC appeared before the council with an update on his company’s dilapidated hotel sight at MM 54.
The current development agreement on file, originally between the city and Peebles Corporation, is “not the optimal option for going forward,” Chandler told the council. He said his company is currently working with Gonzalez Landscaping to address the eyesore of an empty building and dilapidated property.
“You told me you were prepared to clean up the site and make it as pretty as possible for the time being. I would like to nail you down for a time frame when we could revisit this again. Is six months enough time?” Ramsay asked.
“We are working to find a way in the interim to have the property sit there while we move forward and not adversely impact the community,” Chandler explained, adding that he hopes to be able to provide the council with clearer details of an agreement between the lender and his company about how the project will proceed by the end of January 2010.
Ramsay said that in discussions with Chandler, he understood the company had expressed concern over the cancellation of the development agreement as that could jeopardize funding for any future project.
• At the beginning of the meeting, Councilman Ramsay expressed concern over the minutes from past council meetings.
He said the minutes from the Oct. 20 special call meeting that addressed allegations against former city manager Clyde Burnett were incorrect.
“Morales stated he met with each of the council members on Sunday,” Ramsay read from the minutes. “That is wrong. Also, the minutes are not current. They’re so old; I have a hard time remembering whether they’re correct or not. It also appears these minutes may be changed without council approval.”
He motioned to prevent any future unauthorized changes of council meeting minutes and asked that the Oct. 20 minutes be amended to document “what actually happened.”
• Sheriff Bob Peryam presented the council with a refund check in the amount of $57,266 for last fiscal year’s contract law enforcement services in the city of Marathon.
• Members of the Stop Sludge on Bailey (S.S.O.B) citizen group vocally opposing the construction of a sewer plant on Grassy Key celebrated a victory when acting city manager Peter Rosasco told the council that staff would not recommend the city proceed with the current plans.
Ed Castle of Weiler Engineering confirmed that since the U.S. Coast Guard had installed a septic system on the site of their new housing facility, the urgent need to construct a sewer treatment facility on the proposed Bailey Street site had been reduced.
Instead, the staff has located a proposed site adjacent to the Jolly Roger Trailer Park that would work more efficiently for Grassy Key residents, according to Castle.
• Council announced a special call meeting for Monday, Jan. 11 at 6:30 pm to discuss the impending hiring of a new city manager. At 7:30 pm, the council will discuss a proposed vacation rental ordinance currently in the works.