Stacked to the ceiling in his office is $60,000 of nicotine patches – enough self adhesive, medicated pads to help 800 people quit smoking.  Michael Cunningham is the President of the Marathon Rotary Club, Chairman of the Fishermen’s Hospital Board of Trustees, CEO of AHEC and father of two. After graduating from a small Jesuit college in Buffalo, NY, he and his wife, Jo-anne, arrived in the Keys with no jobs or place to live.

You graduated from Canisius College of Buffalo, whose slogan is “Where Leaders Are Made.” How does a guy with a degree in marketing end up on boards of so many health-related organizations?

That is just the path I ended up on. I started with Department of Children and Families in 1994. When I was with the Rural Health Network, I started their primary care services. In 2000, I became Assistant Director of AHEC and was promoted to CEO a year later. At that time, we had three employees and a budget of just $400k. We now have eight full time staffers, one part time, 12 contract employees, and our budget is $1.4 million, so we have grown a bit over the past few years.


As the Chief Executive Officer for AHEC, your mission is to “promote health and wellness through education, health assessments and professional development using partnerships and other contract-funded services resulting in a healthier, better-educated community. Where does all your money come from?

Right now, about two-thirds of the funding comes from state and federal sources. The bulk is tobacco funds that total about $600,000 a year, and the rest is made up from private contracts and grants.

We see about 800 smokers a year, and out of the 10 smoking cessation centers in the state, we usually finish first or second; we often hear that the rest of the network could take some lessons from Monroe County.

The one good thing about being in a small community is that we have tapped into nearly every resource. We have negotiated reduced rates for everything from hypnosis and cold laser therapy to acupuncture so those who want to quit can take advantage of a combination of therapies based on what works for them.


Quorum is helping the hospital transition to 501c3 non-profit faculty and we keep hearing that the hospital will be back within/under the control of the community. What exactly does this mean to the residents and taxpayers of Marathon?

The board has the financial responsibility to make sure the Fishermen’s (Hospital) provides quality medical services and turns a profit. When the hospital makes a profit, it will be reinvested back into the facility for equipment, expanded resources and more.

After July 1, the only difference will be that the money made at the hospital will be reinvested back in the community. The community should expect the same level of quality care.


We hear that the typical billing cycle for reimbursements through insurance companies including Medicare and Medicaid will take 60 to 90 days. A hospital’s overhead is steep, so how do you plan on keeping the doors open in those first few months?

We are currently looking at lenders so the financing is secured long before the transition takes place.

A taxing district is not in our plans. There are a few capital improvements that need to made right now like infrastructure modernization and equipment upgrades to enhance outpatient services. It’s a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but we all have an interest in the hospital and the community.


Less than a year ago, Fishermen’s Hospital Board of Trustees inked a deal with one of the country’s largest health care providers. What has surprised you most about the new management company, Quorum, who will assume control of the hospital this July?

We knew Quorum was a fairly large company, but when we visited them, I was amazed by the depth of their staff. They have experts in every field relating to health care, so whenever we have a need, they will have an expert to come in and assist us. This past fall, we attended a national medical conference and spoke with a lot of hospitals managed by Quorum. They all spoke very highly of our new partner. Quorum is definitely a proactive organization. They monitor finances, anticipate problems and will work in the best interest of our community.


Globally, Rotary is working to eradicate polio. Locally, the Marathon Rotary built the park at 75th Street, sponsors the city’s Fourth of July celebration and provides scholarships to local students. Other clubs throughout the Keys do the same for their perspective communities. What first attracted you to Rotary?

My first impression was that it was a businessman’s club – a place where the leaders of the community met and discussed the issues of the day. When I learned of Rotary, I contacted Keith Douglass and he explained to me that Rotary is a service organization. He invited me to become a member. It is one of those organizations that you can really make the most of the time you put in.

On May 18, 2011, our club will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. This year, we will invite people from the Rotary District and seek out those former Rotarians who helped build this club. We have done some good things this year, and the club is moving in the right direction. Chris Bull and David Grego, who are coming behind me, share the same direction. People think they do not have the time, when in fact it’s not just coming to lunch. We have fun there, but we also do a lot of good in the community with events.


The Marathon Rotary Club is comprised of business leaders, elected officials and community activists. “Service Above Self” is a founding principle and fellowship Can you explain why the Wednesday lunches feature hilarious zingers that typically involve the school district, soccer and Craig Rabito’s hair?

Rotary Club lunches are not for the delicate or the sensitive. Our crew is boisterous and sometimes a little unruly.  If you give them an opening, be ready to take a verbal ribbing.  No good deed goes unpunished and God forbid you make the front page of the paper. As far as Craig’s hair, I think it’s permanently that way from the 100 mph weekend boat trips. Makes me wonder if he’s ever been to Cuba?  Soccer-hmm? We need to ask Sharon as no one can ever understand Arno. I think he likes it though.


Board meetings, youth hockey games, appearances and volunteer work cover nearly every night of your calendar.  What TV shows do you record, and when do you find time to watch them?

You can record TV Shows?? I literally have one night of the week with nothing on my calendar besides the normal 9 to 5 job. After spending time with the kids and putting them to bed, I normally look for a hockey game, the Rachel Maddow Show or Two and a Half Men. I think Charlie Sheen’s show clearly represents his personal life.

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