Sarasota Memorial undergoes Hospital Ownership Evaluation

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SARASOTA - In 2012, Florida legislature passed a law requiring all public hospitals hire an outside entity to determine if the hospital should be sold to a private company or continue as a non-profit.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a one-time chief executive for a privately run hospital, spearheaded the effort, and right now, the details of Sarasota Memorial Hospital's evaluation are being released.

The issue at hand is: should Florida public hospitals be privatized?

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System opened its doors 1925. Since then it’s become one of the largest public health providers in the state, providing care for more than 60% of the population. “Our mission is to serve everyone in our community, irrespective of profitability or not. So we do treat most of the regions Medicaid and most of the regions uninsured,” says Gwen MacKenzie, president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial.

But providing care to the uninsured affects the hospital's bottom line. “We have $85 million a year in charity care, bad debt, so it challenges us to balance that side with the other side of things that are profitable. But we do that balance because we are community owned and operated,” says MacKenzie.

But HB 711 passed by lawmakers last year says hospitals should not have to do that balancing act. The lawmakers required public hospitals to do a 5-month evaluation of the benefits of selling, leasing, or remaining a non-profit. And if the board decides in favor of selling or leasing they must also present a list of buyers.

The bill goes on to say officials should use the evaluation to choose the option that has the most benefit for taxpayers.

The details of the Hospital Ownership Evaluation are currently being presented. Regardless of the information, the hospital board has said they have no desire to sell or lease the facility, and that they are only conducting the evaluation because it’s required by law.