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Six vie for seat on Hospital District board of directors

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of January 24, 2013)

Six people are vying for a single opening on the Indian River County Hospital District’s elected board of directors – a post that in the past rarely attracted more than one candidate. On Jan. 29, a countywide special election will be held to fill the vacancy created by the death of Harry Bolwell.

Only one polling place in Vero Beach and one in Sebastian will be open.

The election has brought unprecedented interest in serving on a voluntary board that distributes about $12 million in property tax revenues to pay for the medical needs of low-income residents.

“It has to be related to all of the recent news that shows the influential role the hospital district plays in the health-care community,” said Tom Spackman, hospital district board chairman and retired radiologist.

Several of the candidates agree: The motivation, they say, was three months of stories in Vero Beach 32963 about problems at the Mental Health Association and the hospital district’s role in bringing about the resignation of its president and board.

“It was remarkable that the hospital district took such timely, decisive action in a community known for indecisive leadership on issues – like the sale of the power plant,” said candidate Nick Schaus, a retired medical facilities planner from Connecticut, who served on the board of the Hartford Hospital for years.

Along with Schaus, candidate Gene Feinour was also motivated to run because he was impressed with the “way the hospital district dealt with substantive issues” at MHA.

“The hospital district’s fast move toward resolution, as well as backing from the McCabe Foundation and the United Way, made me very supportive of the hospital district,” said Feinour, a retired Philadelphia bank executive who served on the Indian River Medical Center Foundation board for nine years.

But candidate Joan Hutton, a registered nurse who runs a placement agency for health-care administrators, said it was her belief that the action the hospital district took in forcing major changes at MHA was too drastic.

“If I were elected to the board, I might be able to suggest a better way of handling such matters in the future,” said Hutton.

Of the three remaining candidates – Nancy Jo Madsen, Charles Celano and Charles Searcy – Searcy, a trucking manager and former school board member, said he closely followed the Vero Beach 32963 reports on problems at MHA and the hospital district response and that is what motivated him to run.

“The hospital district finally did the right thing, but problems at MHA had been going on for years,” he said. “I want to be on the hospital district board so I can ask hard questions sooner and get things moving faster.”

Charles Celano, a cardiologist and chief of staff at the Indian River Medical Center, said that “because I’m chief of staff at the hospital, I was already very aware of the influential role of the hospital district before the stories ran. But I can see how the stories motivated others to run.”

Celano said he is pleased with changes the hospital district brought about at MHA. “The district supported MHA services but could see there was an accountability problem with the MHA board and management.   As a major funder, the hospital district acted as it should have.”

Voting for one of six hospital district candidates will take place Jan. 29 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the main library in Vero Beach and at the Chamber of Commerce in Sebastian.

“We hope there’s a good turnout because, as people now realize, it’s an important voluntary job in this community,” said district executive director Ann Marie Suriano.