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Retired Vero Beach surgeon running for Hospital District board

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of October 1, 2020)
Photo of Dr. James Large.

For the first time since Cleveland Clinic came to town, a seat on the Hospital District board of trustees will be up for grabs on the November ballot, as Dr. James Large, a retired surgeon, challenges incumbent Barbara Bodnar, a physical therapist.

“I’m not displeased with anybody who’s on the board, to be truthful,” said Large. “They all bring their opinion and point of view. I think I bring a little bit of a different point of view.”

Large is a familiar face to many on the board, and not just from sitting in on occasional meetings.

He was a highly regarded surgeon in Vero Beach for 25 years after moving here from Grosse Pointe, Mich., in 1981. At the former Indian River Medical Center, he served as chief of surgery and chief of staff, and in 2006 moved into management as the hospital’s first chief medical officer. He also served for three years as vice president of medical affairs at the hospital.

A graduate of Washington & Lee University, Wayne State University School of Medicine and Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a master’s of medical management, Large began taking a serious interest in actions of the District Board as it pursued a partnership deal that would lead to a takeover by Cleveland Clinic Florida.

Bodnar participated in that decision, though she disagreed with the Board’s choice of Cleveland Clinic, voicing her preference for Orlando Health.

Currently, Bodnar is the only working medical professional on the Hospital District board. A Vero native who grew up in a 1920s-era house in the orange groves west of town, she ran at the urging of her boss, Dr. Omar Hussamy.

“I didn’t really campaign last time. I’m not one to campaign,” said Bodnar. “I don’t talk a lot; I listen a lot. I’m not going to do anything different this time than I did four years ago.”

The potential for change in the makeup of a board that has worked together well comes at a pivotal point. Not only is the Hospital District funding healthcare agencies that are struggling through a pandemic, its role is shifting as it expands the population it serves.

Last October, the district’s eligibility cut-off rose from 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines to 200 percent. In the coming year, it will likely consider raising the ceiling again to 250 percent, a move that would match the current guidelines for fully reimbursed care at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital.

At the same time, the Hospital District will soon see its coffers expand, as the hospital shoulders the entire burden of its charity care plan, currently subsidized by the Hospital District tax levy in the amount of $6 million a year through next June.

The $6 million that has been going to subsidize the hospital’s charity care – which is nearly half of the Hospital District’s budget of $13 million – will be available for other purposes next year at this time.

It will be up to the district board to sort out how to spend that money, though some of the money will go cover the increase in patients who qualify for subsidized care at a dozen facilities other than the hospital, ranging from Treasure Coast Community Health to the Mental Health Association.

The Hospital District’s more generous income ceiling has added more than 200 patients able to get subsidized care, so far. In all, close to 3,500 people are getting care with district help through more than a dozen entities ranging from Treasure Coast Community Health to the Mental Health Association.

The impact of COVID-19 on indigent patient care outlays has yet to be calculated. But earlier this month, Whole Family Health, a low-cost clinic, submitted a request for $216,000 in COVID-19 related costs, including for telehealth, PPE and testing supplies. The VNA also asked for $92,500 in reimbursement for PPE, and other smaller requests are trickling in.