THE ISSUE: Hospital board wants to control disbursement of $1.25 million windfall.

OUR OPINION: Charitable foundation is better able do do this.

Following a long battle with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services, Citrus Memorial Hospital Board chairwoman Debbie Ressler said the board now has a $1.25 million windfall in lease revenues to hand out to worthy charitable groups.

It’s an opportunity for CMH to directly help the community, she said.

Where did it come from? The hospital board reported that CMH in 2013, before the 2014 lease began with the Hospital Corporation of America, was underpaid for many of its Medicare cases. The hospital received the money through the federal government’s Disproportionate Share Hospital program, because Citrus Memorial serves a high number of indigent patients.

Typically, the hospital board gives money related to the lease to the Citrus County Community Foundation, which in turn invests the funds and then gives a portion of the dividends to charitable organizations after a vetting and application process.

But unlike the foundation, Ressler said, the hospital board has the ability to fund such projects as building construction or renovations, as well as health care initiatives with broader community benefits.

Bill Grant, the CMH board’s attorney, said this money is “available to the trustees to decide how to disburse.”

On the other hand, argued board member Dr. Mark Fallows, giving the money to the charitable foundation would be the best way to handle the additional windfall because “that’s what they’re set up for.”

And David Ryan, a member of the charitable foundation, noted the foundation “has a process by which we check up on what is happening with the money (we’ve granted out) so it’s not misused” — an exact vetting and application process.

Foundation president Sophia Diaz-Fonseca noted this money was outside the lease payment, however, and pointed out the board is “allowed to do anything they like,” while the foundation is “much more restricted.”

So, what will be done? The hospital board has asked charities to apply for a share of the funds.

But here’s the problem: The hospital board has no process or guidelines in place to award and follow up on grants to the charities.

No exact vetting and application process.

What could be done? The hospital board could look to the wealth of information compiled by the Florida Department of Health, Citrus County. The Citrus County 2015 Community Health Assessment covers in depth the most vital areas that could benefit from an influx of money to achieve a mission of improving the health of Citrus County residents.

The assessment addresses concerns such as mortality, obesity, mental health care, dental care, chronic disease care, access to health care and much more. The report succinctly sums up “Promising Practices and Interventions for Citrus County Health Issues/Needs.”

With such direction already in place, could the board not look to the report to identify health care needs both immediate and long term for the county, and trust the foundation can do the same and move toward assisting entities/charities with their missions?

The option of allowing the hospital board to distribute the money that should go to the charitable foundation is not the best idea. It is too confusing.

Again, using the money to better our public health is what the foundation is set up to do, through its disbursement of dividends. The best course of action is to trust the foundation to do its job in this case.

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