Hospital looks for funding

Baptist divulges costs as fundraising begins and tax district is proposed

On April 11, Marathon City Council agreed to draft a resolution in support of a new taxing district to support the rebuilding of Fishermen’s Community Hospital, which was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. According to members of the Baptist Fishermen’s Hospital Foundation, the same issue will be discussed this week at the Key Colony Beach Commission meeting. The matter will have to go before the Monroe County Commission, which has the final say about raising taxes.

The goal, according to what was discussed at the Marathon City Council meeting, is to raise about $10 million over the next 10 years, with a .5 mill or less tax rate. On a non-homesteaded property assessed at $300,000, that would mean a tax increase of about $150 a year. The proposed taxing district would likely extend from MM 47 to MM 63, encompassing Key Colony Beach and Duck Key.

Similar taxing districts exist in the Keys such as the Lower and Middle Keys Fire and Ambulance taxing district and a Key Largo fire and medical taxing district. They are assessed at 2.1 per mill and 1.0 per mill, respectively, during the 2017 tax year. (The Lower and Middle Keys Fire and Ambulance taxing district does not include properties in the City of Marathon.)

Foundation members are laying the groundwork for the facility’s rebuilding, the cost and the tax by divulging the institution’s financial status.

“Fishermen’s Community Hospital is losing $1 million a month right now,” said Bob Belcaster, who is co-chairing the capital campaign along with Jim Rifkin. “It’s pretty serious.”

The losses come on top of the investments Baptist Health South Florida already made in the Middle Keys hospital, according to Jay Hershoff, chairman of the Mariners and Fishermen’s Hospital Foundations. Before it even assumed ownership, it provided a $3 million line of credit to the cash-strapped hospital. Then, when it assumed ownership of Fishermen’s Hospital on July 1, its first move was to pay off a $5.8 million mortgage held by CenterState Bank. Then it spent $4.1 million to pay off vendors, including the previous management firm, Quorum, that was owed back pay.

“We were not happy with the way (Quorum) was conducting themselves,” said Hershoff. “It was terribly mismanaged. Nonetheless, the money was given to them and we also paid what was owed to entities like Mt. Sinai Hospital for services already provided to patients who transferred there.

“The day we took over, Baptist had invested about $13 million,” Hershoff said. The losses from that day to Sept. 30, 2017 amounted to another $4 million in operating costs, he said, and from October to the end of February, it was almost $6 million.

“As of April 1, Baptist is $24 million in the hole,” he said.

The hospital has also incurred costs to provide temporary housing and stipends for employees, according to Mike Leonard, chairman of the Baptist Fishermen’s Foundation, and continues to honor doctors’ contracts to provide services. Once the hurricane emergency period ended, Baptist assumed the cost of the rented field hospital — $3,500 per day. The price tag on the custom, hard-sided inpatient temporary hospital to be delivered and erected this summer is $3 million.

Leonard said it’s important to understand these numbers in light of the $40 million brand new hospital Baptist Health South Florida said it intends to build in Marathon. Baptist managers have tasked the foundation with raising $15 million of that locally.

“Our bogie is $15 million; it’s a big number,” Leonard said. According to the foundation, private individuals and businesses have already pledged $4 million. Another $1 million or $1.5 million is expected to be collected in the next month or so, Belcaster said.

Right now, the funds are being pledged in one-on-one meetings and at invite-only parties. Some donors will qualify for a membership in the Founders Society, a concierge service that entitles members to expedited services at not only Baptist hospitals, but also a network of hospitals across the country with reciprocal agreements such as MD Anderson.

Leonard said the investment by the community is only a match to what Baptist Health South Florida has already demonstrated commitment.

“Whether the business is for profit or non-profit, you have to make enough money to pay your bills. We are $1 million short every month and Baptist keeps taking that on the chin. Baptist has been extraordinary. They do exactly what they say they are going to do,” said Leonard. “And the parent company needs to have a strong balance sheet to assure uninterrupted service in a catastrophe. And we did have a catastrophe in Irma and Baptist didn’t miss a beat.”

“The Middle Keys community is going to have input as to what our hospital is going to look like,” Leonard added. “And the $15 million will ensure we get what we want.”

Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.