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Hospital District split over IRMC


Both critics and supporters of the leadership of tax-supported Indian River Medical Center won races to become trustees of the Indian River County Hospital District Tuesday, leaving the two entities still at odds over whether or how the hospital could do a better job of managing its finances.

Three of the five candidates who won seats Tuesday – Omar Hussamy, Barbara Bodnar and incumbent Michael Weiss – want more transparency and better financial management of Indian River Medical Center.

But the other two winners – incumbent Ann Marie McCrystal and Karen Deigl – are staunch supporters of hospital leadership.  Since the two holdover District trustees also generally back the hospital, IRMC’s strong supporters continue to be in the majority,

That means when issues having to do with hospital operations and finances come up, the Hospital District, which directs millions of property tax dollars for indigent healthcare – most of it going to the hospital – is likely to split four to three in favor of IRMC requests rather than challenging hospital leadership.

The highest-profile contest in this year’s election was the battle between incumbent Val Zudans, who has repeatedly questioned hospital transparency and financial management, and his opponent Deigl, a former Hospital District administrator and supporter of IRMC leadership.

Deigl defeated Zudans, the most outspoken of trustees pushing for change at the hospital, by a surprisingly large margin.

“I hope my opponent has success as a new Hospital District trustee,” said Zudans. “I wish her the best of luck.” 

But Weiss, an incumbent who defeated Tony Woodruff, the former chairman of the hospital foundation board, expressed dismay over Zudans‘  defeat.

“He was such a strong and concerned voice for the taxpayers,” said Weiss.  “It’ll make it harder to bring about change with his losing.  We need more open and honest discussions with the hospital, and Zudans was a great supporter of that, as am I.”

Weiss said he hoped, however, that “my victory along with two other victories  make it clear to hospital leadership that many in the community want greater accountability and transparency on their part.”

The two victories to which Weiss referred went to well-known orthopedic surgeon Dr. Omar Hussamy and his employee Barbara Bodnar, who both won seats by wide margins despite doing very little campaigning. 

Hussamy, who in the past has questioned how the medical center is run, defeated Bob Savage, a retired West Virginia hospital executive.

Bodnar, who beat incumbent Gene Feinour by a margin that surprised many, recently told the county taxpayers association she would like to see Indian River Medical Center become a strong and efficient community hospital, rather than one that focuses on specialties.

Incumbent Ann Marie McCrystal won by a large margin over opponents Joe Saul and Brittany Miller, most likely because of her reputation as founder of the Visiting Nurse Association and her decades of volunteer service.

“But you never know how the vote is going to go,” she said.  “So I’m very grateful to the voters for keeping me as a trustee.  It’s time for the seven of us as District Trustees to put the election behind us and sit down to address the many issues before us that have to do with making this a more healthy community.”