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One more try to resolve hospital, district dispute

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of August 28, 2014)

Both the Hospital District and the hospital have put the brakes on the rush to possibly costly and lengthy legal arbitration over the cost of providing indigent care.

At their mandatory Aug. 21 meeting, Hospital District trustees and their newly hired legal team expressed the desire to take a step back and continue negotiations with the hospital’s management over the revamping of the Indigent Care Agreement, rather than head immediately to arbitration.

Trustees did, however, express their willingness to go to arbitration or litigation (or both) if continued negotiations with Indian River Medical Center fall apart again.

“In the spirit of our late friend and colleague Trevor Smith, who spent countless hours trying to negotiate with the hospital, we hope to amicably resolve this,” said District trustee Gene Feinour.

“We have appointed a negotiating team, but if necessary we will arbitrate and litigate,” said Hospital District attorney Jennifer Peshke, who along with five others will comprise the District’s new negotiating team.

Joining her on behalf of the District will be: Atlanta healthcare attorney Phil Sprinkle, Jacksonville civil litigator Geremy Gregory – both of Balch & Bingham – and West Palm Beach attorney Glen Torcivia, who specializes in hospital governance.

Hospital District Chairman Tom Spackman and District Executive Director Ann Marie Suriano will also be on the new District negotiating team.

While the hospital has not announced its new negotiating team, recent correspondence suggests it will consist of hospital attorneys Val Larcombe and Bill Stewart, West Palm Beach attorney Jim Beasley, a medical and financial litigator, as well as hospital board treasurer Jack Weisbaum and hospital CEO Jeff Susi. 

The new effort comes after failed negotiations between March and August. During those negotiations – brought about because the seven elected District trustees did not want to dramatically increase the property tax millage rate for 2015 to reimburse the hospital for indigent care – the hospital refused for almost eight weeks to take anything less than the current reimbursement amount of $8.1 million.

During that time, the District team led by Treasurer Smith, who was killed in an automobile accident July 1, put an offer on the table and then another, which would cap the money the District gave the hospital for 2015 at $7 million.

In late May, the hospital refused the $7 million and said it wanted a cap of $8.1 million, which was the amount the District was scheduled to pay the hospital for 2014.

By mid-July, the District gave up on negotiations and gave the hospital 30 days to come up with a cure for the impasse or enter into arbitration.

That plan was put on temporary hold last Thursday when District trustees unanimously passed a resolution to negotiate with the hospital once more.

The negotiations, said the resolution, could include “one or more audits of the hospital ... subject to the ultimate approval of the Board of Trustees of the District and the Enabling Legislation.”

Further, said the District resolution, the District negotiating team “could undertake discussions with any governmental entity or entities.”

Both statements suggest that, as part of negotiations, the District plans to delve deeper into hospital spending and its legality.