Jackson task force comes under fire over membership

A town hall meeting called to give the black community a chance to comment on proposals for the governance of the financially troubled Jackson Health System got little traction on the main agenda item.

But some speakers, particularly employees of the county-owned healthcare network, sharply criticized the composition of a task force charged with coming up with recommendations on how the system should be run.

And Miami-Dade County Commission Vice-Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, who organized the meeting, flatly denied any suggestion that she supported privatizing Jackson. She also pledged that she would not support any layoffs at the system.

The meeting took place July 28 at the Joseph Caleb Center, 5400 NW 22nd Ave. in Miami’s Liberty City community.

“I have never had a conversation with anyone, public or private, that I support [privatization],” Edmonson said. “That [rumor] was vicious and malicious. I want the same superb services Jackson is offering today, here tomorrow.”

She acknowledged that Jackson was “going under” and the way it was currently being run was not working. “Something has to be done,” she said, adding, “and I am not supporting layoffs.”

Edmonson said her goal is to ensure that Jackson remains open and that those who are unable to afford health care services can continue to be served at the hospital.

Criticism of the composition of the task force centered on the fact that its membership includes the heads of several private hospitals. The 20-member team was appointed in January by the Miami-Dade County Commission and then County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and includes only one representative from Jackson, Dr. Michael Barron, president of the Medical Executive Committee.

“I want to know who this task force is, what’s their experience and what makes them qualified,” said Norberto Molina, an 18-year Jackson nurse. “The task force was put together by people in the health care field but many of our competitors are on the list. That doesn’t make much sense to me. You can’t have someone who runs McDonald’s and Burger King tell you how to run Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

James Starkweather, another Jackson employee, said it was unethical to have members on the task force who run competing health care facilities.

The problem with Jackson, Starkweather said, is that “we need paying customers, too, so we can fund the people we need to fund here in Miami-Dade County. We can’t go to the people that are getting the paying customers and let them tell us how to fix our hospital.”

Paul Silverman, a task force alternate member, described the membership as “representatives from hospitals that work. Jackson is not working now; Jackson is bleeding money. The county commission, to their credit, tried to put together a group of people who were knowledgeable in how hospitals should operate, how it should operate properly. These people put aside the benefits of their own hospitals for the preservation of Jackson.”

Task force member Dr. Edward Feller said the intention was “to save Jackson, to keep it open. It’s a fair group of people.”

According to attendee Latoya Jackson, in any plan to save Jackson, “perhaps there is more that can be done within the county to direct funds to save Jackson, as opposed to jumping the gun or going another route and privatizing.”

Jackson said she is employed but does not have health insurance. “It’s not just the poor and unemployed that rely on Jackson [Hospital], it’s the entire community,” she said.

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