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Four local doctors received $18.4 million from Medicare
week of April 17, 2014

Four local doctors are among the top Medicare billers in the country and the state in their specialties, pulling down between $3.2 million and $6.7 million from the federal government's insurance program for the elderly funded with taxpayer dollars. The billings by the four – an ophthalmologist, an oncologist, and two dermatologists – far exceeded those of similar specialists among 489 other Vero Beach and Sebastian doctors, all of whose Medicare reimbursement amounts were made public last week in an unprecedented release of information by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The four local recipients of Medicare dollars are: ophthalmologist Thomas Baudo, who received $6,678,904 from Medicare; hematologist-oncologist Noor Merchant, who received $4,097,556; dermatologist Tim Ioannides, who received $4,528,821; and dermatologist Jonathan Sanders, who received $3,208,297. Ioannides ranked second nationally and Sanders fourth among 10,507 dermatologists in receipt of Medicare dollars. Baudo was the fifth highest billing ophthalmologist in Florida, and Merchant was sixth among hematologist-oncologists in Florida. None of these totals includes what these doctors received from private insurance companies or directly from patients. READ FULL STORY


Who really owns Debbie Mayfield? Follow the money
week of April 17, 2014

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, who is running for re-election this fall to represent Vero Beach in the Florida House, has come under scrutiny in recent months, with various constituencies questioning who she actually represents in Tallahassee and exactly what has she accomplished in nearly six years for her district. Campaign donor lists often provide some insights into who benefits from a lawmaker's work and who really wants that person to stay in office. In reviewing Mayfield's donor lists, Vero Beach 32963 found that more than two thirds of the $136,110 campaign war chest she has raised for the coming election comes from donors outside Indian River County who would appear to have little interest or stake in the local concerns of the constituents who elected her. Mayfield's campaign contributor report reads like a list of Fortune 500 companies, with lots of political action committees, lobbyists and special-interest groups mixed in, all of them presumably hoping to get her to support bills that would apply a light touch when it comes to business regulation. READ FULL STORY


Cultural Council dreams of diesel plant as arts center
week of April 17, 2014

The Indian River Cultural Council, with the enthusiastic backing of beachside philanthropist Dick Stark, is laying the groundwork for a campaign to acquire the historic diesel power plant in downtown Vero, and attempt to turn it into an arts center similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. The umbrella arts organization believes it can raise $4 million to renovate the shell of a building into 30 second-floor artists' studios, with a restaurant downstairs. Even though 2,000 people have signed petitions supporting the notion, at least two nearby gallery owners are calling the plan "a dream" and "pie-in-the-sky." Currently the plant, owned by the city of Vero Beach, isn't even available: it's tied up in a suit and countersuit between the city and developers David Croom, his son Charles Croom, and Phil Barth. Barth and another investor got a 45-year lease on the plant from the city in 2001; the Crooms joined the group shortly afterwards. If the suits are resolved in a way that frees the city from its lease, City Manager Jim O'Connor advocates selling the plant and says he'll ask for written proposals to present to the city council. READ FULL STORY


Jumping on the bandwagon to stop high-speed trains
week of April 17, 2014

To those who oppose the All Aboard Florida high-speed train project in Vero Beach, Sebastian and the other communities north of West Palm Beach, it's an us-against-them battle. And they know we're outnumbered. "We're definitely taking on South Florida," Indian River County commissioner Bob Solari said. "If you look at the seven-county region, 91 percent of the population is Palm Beach and south." More people live there. More businesses are located there. More politicians represent the people, businesses and other interests there. That's a lot to overcome, especially with All Aboard Florida planning to connect Miami to Orlando with high-speed passenger rail service that includes stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Making the challenge more difficult is the support the project has received from Gov. Rick Scott, who already has pledged $215 million for the construction of an All Aboard Florida terminal at Orlando International Airport, and the Obama Administration, which slipped $8 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail loans into its 2009 stimulus package. READ FULL STORY


The lagoon yields healthy fish count
week of April 17, 2014

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission fish biologists have good news for lagoon lovers – at least for the part of the lagoon between the Barber Bridge and south to Round Island: "You've got good fish diversity there, which indicates a high level of health in that area," said FFWC lead fish biologist Jim Whittington. The news came last Thursday after Whittington and three marine biologists conducted fish counts at random spots between the Barber Bridge and Round Island. To get the job done, they pulled a huge weighted seine net – a 120-foot rectangle – behind a boat and watched it sink to the bottom. Then they dumped the hundreds of fish in it into a well full of lagoon water. With small nets they scooped the fish up, noting their health and writing down what kind of fish they were. "There were nice surprises," said Whittington. Behind Tidewater Island Club and Tarpon Island Club condominiums, east of Miracle Mile, they found barracuda, mangrove snapper, pompano, jack gravel, catfish, ladyfish, sheepshead, mullet and sand perch – small to medium-sized and in abundance. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach gaining reputation as the 'Hamptons of Florida'
week of April 10, 2014

One of the things powering the barrier island real estate market is the emergence of Vero Beach as The Hamptons of Florida – so say island realtors, Miami residents who decompress here on weekends and The Palm Beach Post, among others. A Wall Street Journal article that takes up the theme is rumored to be in the works. "My husband and I have very active and demanding careers in Miami, working 12- and 14-hour days," says Sissy DeMaria, co-owner of a luxury real estate and hospitality public relations and marketing firm with offices in Miami and New York. "We love Vero because it is a wonderful change of pace, very quiet and beautiful and relaxing." The DeMarias have had a place in Sea Oaks since 2002 and weekends in Vero are an integral part of their high-powered lifestyle, just as a couple of days each week in Southhampton – or at least a couple of weekends each month in the summer – are essential to stressed-out stockbrokers and other over-worked Manhattanites. READ FULL STORY


Hospital promises to 'open books'
week of April 10, 2014

Indian River Medical Center CEO Jeff Susi made a rare appearance at last week's Hospital District chairman's meeting and assured trustees the hospital would "open the books" to them to hopefully provide answers to financial questions they find puzzling. Susi's offer came after several trustees suggested that an investigation by a forensic accountant might be in order. Because the seven District trustees are elected to direct property tax dollars to pay for indigent care, an unexpected and dramatic increase in hospital indigent billings has caused most of them to ask for more details about this increase. Until Susi's offer last Wednesday, trustees said they found responses from the hospital's chief financial officer lacking. "The current CFO is very dismissive of trustees and the issues they've brought to the board," District chairman Tom Spackman said at the meeting in the District office. "We know we have a need for more transparency," said Susi. READ FULL STORY


Tower could finally bring Shores better cellphone service
week of April 10, 2014

Is it possible that residents of the southern half of Indian River Shores – one of Florida's more affluent townships – are finally going to be able to enter the cellphone era, and make and receive calls from their homes? That tantalizing possibility seemed a bit closer this week with word that a much-needed cellular tower seemed set to be built at the county's Tracking Station Park just outside the town limits at the southern end of Indian River Shores. The idea of a new tower inside the town limits had been debated for more than a decade, with residents who could not use their cellphones inside dwellings for lack of a strong enough signal pitted against opponents concerned that a tower would be an eyesore and a safety risk. READ FULL STORY


Vero to move South Beach water customers to county rates
week of April 10, 2014

With Indian River Shores customers already receiving county water, sewer and reuse rates, and a vote set for Tuesday to shift South Beach and mainland county customers on Vero's water-sewer system to county rates, Vero's own city residents likely will be the only ones left paying the old city rates by mid-summer. City Manager Jim O'Connor said there's no plan to convert the approximately 60 percent of water-sewer customers inside the city to county rates, because, according to city staff, certain classes of commercial customers and high-volume users would pay more. O'Connor said this hypothesis is based upon a recent water-sewer optimization study GAI Consultants performed for the city. Councilwoman Pilar Turner said she has not heard any complaints from city ratepayers about remaining on the Vero rates. "I guess in the absence of city ratepayers demanding to go on county rates, city residents will stay the way they are," she said. "Obviously the city rates are better for high-volume users and the lower volume users subsidize that," she said. "But if we want to focus on conservation, it would make sense to switch everyone over to the county rates." READ FULL STORY


Central Beach townhouse project sells out months before completion
week of April 3, 2014

In yet another sign of strength in the island real estate market, the five-unit East End townhouse project – with prices ranging from $1.995 million to $2.25 million – sold out the third week in March, six months prior to its scheduled October completion. "That is the first time that has happened on the island in many, many years," says Clark French of Premier Estate Properties who, along with his partner Cindy O' Dare, handled the marketing and sales effort for the luxury oceanfront development. French credits the five-unit project's success to low new-home inventory, an attractive product and realistic pricing. "With new inventory at a 35-year low, buyers are hungry for new product, and the developer had realistic pricing expectations that matched the market," French said. "We sold three units before construction began, during the design and permitting phase, and signed the final two contracts last Friday [March 21]. The two-story, 3,200-square-foot units were offered for $1,995,000 pre-construction, and for $2,250,000 after groundbreaking, though it is possible the last two homes sold for over that price. READ FULL STORY


Florida Senate guts bill to curb vacation rentals
week of April 3, 2014

The Florida Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a crippled version of a bill originally designed to return the power to regulate vacation rentals to cities like Vero Beach. Should the bill passed last week become law, rentals of one week or longer would still be protected under state statute. Cities would only be able to restrict overnight or weekend rentals. Republican Senator Bill Galvano of Bradenton introduced the killer amendment to Senate Bill 356, which was then passed by a 37-2 vote. The Galvano amendment would not give cities like Vero the power to regulate how often a house or condo could be rented out, and would allow a revolving-door of renters every week. It states, "A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not limit the frequency of rentals or set a minimum stay requirement for a vacation rental of greater than 7 days. This subsection does not apply to any local law, ordinance, or regulation adopted on or before June 1, 2011." READ FULL STORY


Hospital acknowledges need for 'more factual information'
week of April 3, 2014

The Indian River Medical Center last week formally announced it had hired a Tennessee company to help it communicate better with its stakeholders and with the community at large, acknowledging there had been lapses in communication that need to be corrected. "We need less misinformation and more factual information," CEO Jeff Susi said, after introducing Anne Hancok Toomey, a partner from Jarrard, Phillips, Cate and Hancock, a healthcare crisis communication firm. With the communications consultant present front and center, it was no surprise that "communication" – and the need for the hospital to do a better job of it – was the main theme last week at meetings of the hospital's finance committee and its full board. From explaining a mysterious spike in indigent hospital bills, to conceding that being within budget for 2014 was partially based on an accounting trick, to acknowledging continued problems with the Emergency Room, hospital leaders seemed genuinely committed to getting the truth out. READ FULL STORY


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