The Inverness city council’s enthusiasm to take over the job of overseeing the lease of Citrus Memorial Hospital is dimming as council members are slated to discuss the issue during their regularly scheduled Tuesday council meeting.

The Citrus County Hospital board owns Citrus Memorial Hospital on behalf of the public and leased it for 50 years to Hospital Corporation of America beginning in 2014. HCA has an additional 25-year-lease option at the end of the original 50 years.

In October 2019, hospital board lawyer Bill Grant asked the city council to consider taking over the hospital board’s role of overseeing the enforcement of the lease once the board sunsets in 2022 or 2023. The hospital board had asked the Citrus County School board to consider taking the job earlier in 2019 but school board members declined.

On November 12, 2019 the city council and hospital board met to begin discussions about whether the Inverness city council would consider the job. The council members were enthusiastic about the prospect and agreed to additional meetings.

The hospital board plans to sunset once it closes legal disputes over the hospital’s pension plan, under reimbursements from Medicaid, and remaining Workers Compensation Insurance claims.

Created by the Florida Legislature, only state lawmakers can allow the hospital board to sunset and hand over its role to another government body.

Hospital board members have said they don’t want to hand that job over the County Commission, saying it was too political of a body. State auditors are also currently conducting an audit that reviews the hospital board’s operational oversight of the transition to HCA and its wind down thus far. Grant told his board bosses that legislators want to wait for its release before introducing legislation to allow the hospital board to sunset. He told the Chronicle he expects the audit to be released in the spring.

Meanwhile, the council’s enthusiasm for a second meeting with the hospital board has waned.

Some members say that the issue should be postponed until state lawmakers create a legal pathway to hand over the job, or create a new government body with representation from across the county, or pause altogether.

“Right now it would be presumptuous of us to accept an offer from (the hospital board) prior to any legislation,” said councilman David Ryan.

As for any more meetings with the hospital board, Ryan said, “I’m not sure about that. At this moment I would have to defer to the state.”

Rather than the Inverness council taking over the hospital board job, “there may be alternatives that might be advisable, like a joint group” made up of Inverness, Crystal River, and county commission members.

Councilman Cabot McBride said he would listen to any alternative plans. He also told the Chronicle the council has had time now to give the hospital board’s proposal, and the council’s initial welcoming response, more thought.

“In the beginning this just kind of came across our plate,” he told the Chronicle. “(Now) we’ve had a couple of months to (review the issue). I think we can approach this with greater clarity.”

As for what he now thinks about the hospital board’s proposal:

“There certainly are concerns about the entire matter,” McBride said.

The Citrus County Commission is also scheduled to discuss Tuesday the issue of which government body should take over the hospital board’s role.

Councilwoman Linda Bega said she would be open to continue to meet with the hospital board.

“I don’t mind meeting for information gathering. I don’t mind learning as we go,” she said.

Inverness City Manager Eric Williams said that until the Legislature makes a decision, no local government body can move to change the current layout.

He told the Chronicle that he would not encourage his council bosses in either direction and that the city’s decision was a policy-setting one.

But as part of Tuesday’s council agenda, he gave the council members related issues to think about.

He gave the council a page-long list of issue to consider, including:

*The Legislature’s needed approval to allow the hospital board to sunset and which local government body to allow to take over the oversight of the lease.

* The need to ensure that the city is not liable due to any past, present, or future claims against the hospital board.  

*The city would also need comprehensive documents from the hospital board explaining legislation that could affect the lease, details about errant billing, tax information, details about the lease, responsibilities of the hospital board to the Foundation Resolution Corporation Board, responsibilities to the Citrus County Charitable Board, anticipated costs for the transference to the city, anticipated revenues to the city if there were a transfer, and any additional points of information that would be warranted in the council’s consideration of next steps.

* Political issues in relation to medical care for the county.

* The city’s relationship with HCA and what happens if the lease is contested.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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