Jackson employees: Don’t privatize our hospital

Jackson employees: Don’t privatize our hospital

By THEO KARANTSALIS
The Miami Herald

   ON CALL:  Dr. Edward Feller reads the names of each member of the Hospital Governance Task Force to Norberto Molina Jr., a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

A Miami-Dade commissioner got an earful Thursday night from Jackson Health System employees and others opposed to converting the county hospitals into a nonprofit entity.They were commenting on the report of a 20-member task force appointed by the county commission. It recommended that Jackson, which has lost $337 million over the past two years, be removed from the direct political control of the commission.

Commissioner Audrey Edmonson distributed 18 proposed changes at Jackson then sought input from about 100 residents at the Caleb Center in Liberty City.

“I need to hear your questions,” said Edmonson, as she called from her district – which stretches from Overtown to North Miami — to speak before a panel of attorneys, doctors and other officials.

Many of the speakers were Jackson employees. Norberto Molina Jr., an 18-year veteran nurse at Jackson, questioned the makeup of a task force that recently recommended that Jackson be run by a nonprofit organization under contract with the county.

“Jackson is a public system but most of this task force is made up of competitors,” Molina said, as the crowd jeered. “It’s like having someone from Burger King come in and tell you how to run your McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

At least seven of the 20 task force members represent competing hospitals, including Mercy, Baptist, Palmetto, Miami Children’s and the University of Miami. The Service Employees International Union, which represents thousands of Jackson employees, also has a representative on the task force, which is chaired by former state Rep. Juan C. Zapata, R-Miami.

Dr. Edward Feller, a task force member, stood and carefully read the names of other members.

“Only one of those is staff of JMH,” argued Molina, of Shorecrest, who wore green scrubs and was escorted away from his mic by a guard after Edmonson signaled that he had exceeded his time limit.

Another nurse, Juana Thomas, of North Miami Beach, was also cut short.

Jackson, which has a $2 billion budget, serves the community as a “safety-net” hospital, according to the report, taking care of residents regardless of their ability to pay. But state funding for the indigent is drying up.

The task force was created after a 2010 Miami-Dade Grand Jury determined that its “governance must be changed.” The grand jury recommended a panel be appointed to study the issue, and that’s what the county commission did.

Other changes recommended by the task force in its 150-page report:

• Heightened ethics standards.

• Creating a culture of “performance excellence.”

• Identifying responsibilities of the county commission and board.

At the meeting, some asked questions about issues not listed on the handout, like jobs.

“If it privatized, we will lose more jobs,” said Sulio Asile, of Little Haiti, who spoke through a Creole interpreter and was one of dozens who wore a t-shirt emblazoned “1 Miami” in fluorescent orange.

1 Miami is an organization affiliated with SEIU.

But some Jackson employees at the meeting fear something worse — the shades to the system’s transparency could be shut for good.

“If it becomes a for-profit hospital, they won’t have to comply with Florida’s public records laws,” said Molina, who studied the entire 150-page final report and wants the system to operate in the sunshine. He also said that though full document contains many pages on this matter, the handout conveniently left it out.

“We just want things to be done fairly,” said Molina. “Don’t hide things from us.”


© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
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