Sponsor says push to make Jackson Health System a nonprofit is dead

While this Miami Herald article appears to be a victory for our campaign to keep Jackson public, efforts to privatize Jackson are still being mulled by state legislators. In fact, two state lawmakers are quoted at the end of the Herald article, clearly stating their support to change Jackson’s governance.

We must stay focused on our efforts to stop the ongoing attempts to privatize our public hospital, which would ultimately cut services to our community. Let’s keep the pressure on our elected officials to say NO to any efforts to privatize Jackson.

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Read the full story below:

A push to make Jackson Health System into a nonprofit, which started last year with a grand jury report, has ended because the commission won’t support it, its sponsor said Wednesday.

By John Dorschner

jdorschner@MiamiHerald.com

The months-long push by 20 Miami-Dade County healthcare leaders to convert Jackson Health System into a nonprofit entity free of county control is dead, at least for now, the movement’s chief sponsor said Wednesday.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, whose efforts created a task force to study the idea, said neither the County Commission nor the public appear to have an appetite for changing the way the financially troubled public hospitals are governed.

“I don’t see the votes,” she said Wednesday.

She said she would advocate that the commission pass some of the task force’s secondary recommendations — such as heightened ethical standards for Jackson’s board — but not the leading provision to convert it into a nonprofit.

“We have heard from the community,” she said. “They… do not support privatizing. They have made that loud and clear.”

Her statement likely ends a process that began in August 2010 when a Miami-Dade grand jury called Jackson a “colossal mess” and recommended that a panel be formed to change its governing structure so county commissioners couldn’t meddle in its operations.

For months, commissioners balked at considering the proposal that they should relinquish control, but in January Sosa mustered enough support to win commission approval for a task force to study the issue, though some warned that the result would be much talk and no action.

The Jackson task force consisted of six hospital chief executives, University of Miami President Donna Shalala, grand jury prosecutor Susan Dechovitz and former State Rep. Juan C. Zapata, who was named chairman.

In May, 18 of its 20 members signed a report urging the commission set “an aggressive timetable” to establish a nonprofit with an independent board that was nimble and nonpolitical so tough decisions could be made at Jackson, which has lost more than $400 million the past three years.

The commission responded by setting up a series of town hall meetings, all of which were dominated by Jackson union members decrying the “privatizing” of the public hospitals. Sosa complained at the time that the unions were turning the meetings into “a circus” that prevented calm discussion.

Task force member Steven Marcus, president of the Health Foundation of South Florida, complained the town halls were “completely geared to support the union point of view.” He noted two of the meetings were at Jackson North, “where employees had to just walk in to the auditorium,” rather than located in places more accessible to the general public.

Union leader Martha Baker and others raised questions about whether a nonprofit could continue to receive county tax money and have sovereign immunity to protect its employees from malpractice lawsuits, as the present public entity has.

After a North Miami-Dade town hall in July, Commissioner Sally Heyman said she did not believe she and colleagues had meddled in Jackson affairs: “I just don’t see it.”

Many other commissioners agreed with her.

Commissioner Joe Martinez deflated some of the criticism of the grand jury report in May by pushing through a new, smaller governing board of seven members and in July requiring a two-thirds vote of the county commission to overturn decisions of the Jackson board. On Wednesday, Zapata, the task force chair, said he agreed with Sosa that the nonprofit push had no chance now. “The votes aren’t there. At the end of the day, it was a healthy exercise… It would have taken some serious political courage to implement all of the recommendations.”

He commended Sosa for “at least starting the conversation.” With healthcare reform and stiff competition from other hospitals, many changes are ahead for Jackson, he noted, adding that support to change Jackson into a nonprofit may revive at some point.

Sosa said late Wednesday that she’s willing to push the nonprofit concept in the future. “My door is open, and I’m coming back if Jackson does not improve. I am in a wait-and-see mode.”

Sosa’s pronouncement Wednesday came several hours after two Republican Miami-Dade state legislators told Jackson’s governing board that it should pursue changes in governance. “I feel very strongly we need to have that governance structure discussion on the table,” said Rep. Jeanette Nuñez.

“If we wait for the county to kick-start that conversation, we’ll be sitting here until we’re 100 years old,” said Rep. Erik Fresen. “Let’s force them into that conversation.”

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