Did you see the notice recently that the Citrus County Hospital (CCHB) board, which holds ownership of Citrus Memorial Hospital (CMH) on behalf of the public, has $1.2 million in funds to give away? Thirty-five organizations applied for it, with total requests of nearly $7 million.

This money was recovered from the federal government after a lengthy battle over claims that the hospital was underpaid for many 2013 Medicare cases — just prior to CCHB leasing CMH to Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in 2014.

That’s a lot of acronyms, and we wouldn’t blame you for being confused. But add one more: Citrus County Community Charitable Foundation (CCCCF). That’s the not-for-profit foundation that the hospital board created in 2014 for the express purpose of distributing earnings from the HCA lease proceeds to fund “medically-related needs of the citizens and residents of Citrus County, Florida.”

In short, the hospital board created a foundation to give away money. So why has the hospital board decided to get into that business as well? Especially when it has no guidelines or processes in place, no operating procedures for grant-making, and doesn’t appear to have the full support of its members (or the public) for such a move?

The reasons given include the contention that those funds are not proceeds from the lease and that CCHB is more flexible since it can fund bricks-and-mortar while the charitable foundation cannot.

We say hogwash.

First, the funds might not be direct proceeds from the HCA lease, but that entire claim process would not have occurred had the lease not been imminent. And second, the CCHB wrote the charitable foundation’s bylaws, so if it wants the foundation to have authority to fund bricks-and-mortar, it only needs to change the bylaws. The hospital board is the sole member of the not-for-profit corporation that is the charitable foundation, and it also has one of the seats on the foundation’s board of directors.

The hospital board wouldn’t lose control, which apparently is its fear, because the bylaws already say that it must approve any grants by the charitable foundation for $250,000 or more. That would be likely if a bricks-and-mortar request were considered.

While the hospital board has already heard from those applicants, we suggest it is not too late to get out of the grant-making business, and transmit the $1.2 million to the charitable foundation created for that purpose. Playing Santa Claus with “found money” smacks of political motivation for an administrative board that plans to sunset itself within a couple of years.

And everyone involved should be thinking about how any available funds ought to be applied to get the greatest health care bang for the buck. Fortunately, there’s expert guidance available so you don’t need to step blindly into the void of charitable giving. The 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment, which identifies the five strategic priority areas, provides a roadmap that would result in a healthier Citrus County.

In 2013, before the hospital board leased the publicly-owned CMH to a for-profit company, it funded and managed the community health needs assessment process. Since then, two additional updates to the community health needs assessment have been done (2015 and 2018) but the hospital has been noticeably absent in the process.

The Hospital Board has its own job to do and giving away money is not one of them.

The CCCCF charitable foundation should be using available monies to take the lead in the assessment process as well as to steer grant funding to those evidence-based interventions identified in the report that will contribute significantly to a healthier Citrus County.

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