We all know the benefits of having a hospital in our town. Our residents must have critical access to healthcare in the event of medical emergencies. A state-of-the-art hospital will attract new residents and businesses which in turn keeps property values trending in the right direction and our economic engine churning.
Which is why I am in full support of the taxing district passed at last week’s Monroe County Board of County Commissioners meeting.
Baptist made a commitment to Marathon when they were under no obligation to do so. Before assuming ownership, they loaned Fishermen’s Community Hospital $3 million to fund the payroll and then spent another $10 million at the closing table to get Fishermen’s out of debt with vendors and the previous management team.
They did this knowing the facility needed at least $25 million in rehabilitation for a total investment of $40 million … before Hurricane Irma.
Since the storm hit on September 10, Baptist is reporting losses of $1.2 million a month on the temporary field hospital and may continue to absorb losses for the next two years as they operate out of a $5.5 million modular facility that opened just this week.
$55 million is a lot of money to invest in a community like Marathon and is most likely the largest single investment ever made.
Marathon’s commitment was put to the test last week when the county commission approved a taxing district designed to fund $1.5 million dollars of annual indigent care. The tax would take affect next year and would require a new levy and vote by the commission each year. So, if Baptist did not meet all the requirements spelled out in the ordinance, then the commission could reduce or eliminate the tax altogether.
Those opposed to the taxing district claimed they felt the voters should have the final decision in the matter. Others objected to the shift from support for construction, to support for indigent care.
Marathon councilman Mark Senmartin, who voted in support of the taxing district back in April, wrote on Facebook that he felt misled.
“It came to be that the thing that we voted for had changed and it was not for bricks and mortar,” he wrote, “but for indigent care.”
In fact, the taxing district was presented as a means to get the hospital constructed. However, the Foundation later learned that state laws (and they are complicated) do not allow for funds raised through taxing districts to be used for brick and mortar facilities without a binding referendum vote. They could, however, be used for reimbursement purposes.
Other opponents to the ordinance said they support the hospital, but would rather see the voters decide on the tax with a binding referendum which would lock the tax in for ten years – whether Baptist needed the funds or not.
“I haven’t heard from one person who is not in support of this hospital,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers. “This is a representative democracy. We are elected to represent people and when so many organizations and duly elected officials unanimously supported this it seemed the right thing to do, so I vote yes.”
Commissioner George Neugent went a step further, saying he felt like he was “doing my job by contributing through an MSTU,” since he didn’t have the money to make a larger charitable donation and that taxing district was simply an equitable way to give Baptist a commitment.
A home valued at $300,000 would end up paying $150 annually (property value multiplied by .0005.)
I was apprehensive when I was recruited to join the Baptist Health of South Florida’s board of directors for the Fishermen’s Hospital Foundation. They wanted $15 million from the community for the construction of a new hospital. Why, I wondered, does this massive healthcare provider need my help in raising money? Why does this healthcare provider need our money, period?
In business, each entity should be self-sufficient or all the assets end up in a risky position. Their flagship hospitals must put a cap on subsidies for the smaller, rural hospitals. The residents of Marathon have benefitted from Baptist’s bottom line – we have a hospital. Baptist Health South Florida has shown their commitment to Marathon. I have seen the Baptist logo as a sponsor of local events like the 7 Mile Bridge Run and Fourth of July celebration. Even while losing money, they continue their mission to be strong community partners and a successful partnership begins with an understanding that each entity is going to make sacrifices for the common good. By raising local money, the community has a vested interest in the success of the hospital.
The bottom line for me is providing healthcare to my two young sons and my mother who recently retired to the Keys. I am also committed to providing healthcare for those who are unable to provide it for themselves. That is why we have a government and live together as a community. That is what makes Marathon and the Middle Keys such a wonderful place to grow up, raise a family or retire.
Baptist Health is fulfilling their promise to the residents of Marathon and deserves a commitment from us.
Jason Koler is the publisher of the Keys Weekly Newspapers and serves on the foundation board for Fishermen’s Community Hospital.
Baptist Health of South Florida has scheduled a public forum for Monday, August, 13 from 5pm-7pm at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Hwy.