Cash, control separate boards

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Citrus Memorial Health Foundation, CCHB trustees still searching for resolution

By Mike Wright

INVERNESS — Past feuds may have died, but the two boards connected to Citrus Memorial hospital still don’t see eye to eye on the two biggest issues: control and money.

The Citrus County Hospital Board (CCHB), whose five members are appointed by the governor, offered Thursday to provide $4 million in cash to the hospital in exchange for greater influence in major decisions, such as hiring or retention of the chief executive officer.

The Citrus Memorial Health Foundation board, whose members are self-appointed and operate the hospital by lease, met in closed session Friday and came away without a vote on the CCHB offer.

Hospital spokeswoman Katie Mehl said in a statement the foundation hopes to find resolution with CCHB trustees.

She also said the foundation wants more information from trustees on their interest in fronting tax dollars to the county for aspects of the C.R. 491 widening and medical corridor project, which would be repaid with impact fees. Trustees said they are only exploring the idea and no decision has been reached.

The two boards are working to settle the final two of numerous lawsuits filed since 2009, when a dispute over hospital control erupted. The dispute effectively ended in 2012 when Gov. Rick Scott replaced all but one member of the CCHB.

In one lawsuit, the foundation demanded about $11 million in tax money it said the CCHB was holding illegally. Foundation officials say about $7 million is still available.

While both boards agreed in a joint workshop last week to drop the lawsuit, they did not discuss a settlement amount. Foundation members said the hospital needs the tax support.

“You guys have these funds. That came from county taxpayers to take care of sick people in this hospital and not pay lawyers,” foundation board member Jim Sanders said. “And those funds, we need to move those funds.”

Trustees, meeting Wednesday, offered $4 million, according to a letter CCHB Chairwoman Debbie Ressler sent the foundation on Thursday.

Both boards also want a unified foundation, with at least five members from each board plus the hospital chief of medical staff. In its letter, Ressler said the board would need a seven-vote supermajority to approve capital expenditures above $50,000 and hiring the CEO, among other things.

She said the $4 million payment, which would include all charity care and expenses through this year, is contingent on the change of control.

Though the foundation board didn’t discuss the offer publicly Friday, Mehl said talks will continue.

“We are moving forward to settle all of these matters,” she said, “but it will take some time to evaluate all of the associated legal issues.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.