Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vetoed a bill that would have set up a process for independent hospital districts to convert into private nonprofit entities.
Fort Myers-based Lee Memorial Health Systems was the driving force behind SB 1260, which was sponsored by Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters.
DeSantis noted in a veto letter to Secretary of State Cord Byrd that he has supported changes to hospital districts that were passed in local bills.
“CS/SB 1260 intends to solve a priority of one independent hospital district through broad statewide policy changes rather than through the local bill process,” DeSantis wrote in a June 24 letter.
“Florida’s public hospitals serve our medically indigent and support the state share of our low-income pool. Under these circumstances each policy change to the governance structure of our independent hospital districts should be reviewed on a district-by-district basis.”
While the bill ultimately passed the Legislature unanimously, it had its detractors. For instance, Sen. Janet Cruz, a Democrat from Tampa, pressed Gruters in February in a Senate Community Affairs Committee on why the legislation was necessary.
“Sometimes they want to do something other than what’s in their existing charter such as, for example, expanding past their geographical footprint,” Gruters told Cruz. “I believe it’s all about the competitive market we are in.”
Sen. Gary Farmer also expressed concerns during the Senate meeting, noting that Broward County has two hospital districts: the South Broward Hospital District and the North Broward Hospital District, which operate as Memorial Healthcare System and Broward Health, respectively. Farmer said he wasn’t sure there were enough guardrails around the conversion process.
The bill would have set up a process for all hospital districts interested in converting to a not-for-profit system to follow. A public hospital district would have been authorized to evaluate the benefits of conversion in public meetings if the majority of its governing board, plus one, agreed it was a promising idea.
If at the end of the process the governing body believed conversion was in the best interests of the district’s residents, the bill authorized the hospital board to enter into negotiations with the governing boards of the county or counties in which it runs to negotiate the disposition of the system’s assets and liabilities.
Florida AFL-CIO Director of Politics and Public Policy Rich Templin told members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee that the union started hearing from nurses who were concerned that, following a conversion, less profitable health care services would be eliminated.
“Just recently our nurses really got a sense of what the bill was doing, and they have a lot of concerns about it,” Templin said.
But Michael Nachef, vice president government relations for Lee health, said that wouldn’t be the case because the bill had an “enforceable commitment” for health care services to continue following a conversion.
Moreover, Nachef told the Senate panel that the bill simply authorizes a conversion and sets up a process to follow.
“It allows these boards and these local communities to make a decision,” he said.