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Vero Beach City Council Profile: Debra Fromang
BY MICHELLE GENZ - STAFF WRITER (Week of June 18, 2009)

When Vero Beach City Council member Debra Fromang looks at today’s painful economic issues, her first inclination might be to give the city a shot in the arm. She trained, after all, as a nurse.

But along with a masters in nursing, the 59-year-old Fromang has a law degree. As a result, it seems, any urge to seek a quick remedy is tempered by an urge to reflect and consider.

“I want to look at issues without bias,” she says. “The information I get may be different from the information I think I know.”

A clear illustration of Debra Fromang’s approach – which generally involves asking a lot of questions – has been seen in the way she has dealt with the current proposal by the city’s risk manager to establish a health clinic that would serve municipal employees.

“I’ve talked to a lot of physicians about whether there are enough ‘lives’ (prospective patients) within the city to have the clinic work,” Fromang says. “I don’t believe so, and it is their opinion that there aren’t enough either.”

Fromang says she could see the clinic being feasible if there were 5,000 “lives” using it (the city has 500 employees, plus dependents), and if it were also used for the city and county’s pre-employment physicals.

She is also concerned that the clinic’s physician would dispense generic drugs purchased in bulk rather than going through pharmacists, whom she strongly believes add another layer of protection for the medical consumer.

“I’d like to hear from the pharmacy population whether they think it’s a good idea to be handing out generics without the protection of a pharmacist.”

“Everybody from the President down to local government and the private sector are very worried about health care,” she says. “Everybody wants to control costs, and the huge driving force behind the proposal is the thought that it might save money.

“But it’s hard to run a medical clinic,” says Fromang. She points to existing clinics run by the same consultancy, and questions how well they are doing.

“A lot of medicine is art,” she says. “You may go to a doctor and you may like him and you may not. Whether the provider is a fit or not, we will not have any say in the city. We can’t hire and fire, or we’d be liable for medical malpractice as well.”

She also questions what incentive employees would have to use the clinic, since they theoretically would keep their current health insurance plans as well.

“Right now, employees have the opportunity to go to the doctor of their choice, or they can go to a clinic. Are we going to raise their deductible in order to force them to go to the clinic? Otherwise, what would possess them to go to a clinic? Nobody has said this yet.”

For now, Fromang is grateful for the laborious process of seeing the proposal through to a vote. Things move slowly for a reason, she says.

“I’m being countered by other arguments and the council has to weigh the information within their own experience,” she says. “I would urge them to talk to their doctors, talk to their pharmacists, talk to their employees and ask, ‘Is this what you want?’ “

Though she quickly rejects any suggestion that she holds a role of resident expert on the council, Fromang is a font of thoughtful questions, wrought not only of her deliberative mediator’s mind, but of her decades in nursing – she still fills in as nurse in her husband’s practice from time to time.

Fromang became inspired to run for office by watching contentious council meetings on television. “I wanted it to be civil,” she says. “I wanted it to be reflective of this city. Vero Beach is a very special town, and it should be treated as such.”

Debra Fromang, 59, learned civility at the knee of her father, who retired as a two-star admiral, and her mother, the consummate military wife. Her father, who grew up in Miami, was in training as a fighter pilot in Pensacola when she was born.

“Both my parents had incredibly strong personalities,” says Fromang.

Though at least five of her 12 years of schooling were in Florida, and her University of Florida allegiance carries over to the Gator license plate on her Lexus SUV, it was when she met her husband David Fromang that she began to develop ties to Vero Beach.

“David is my sounding board,” she says. “He has a firm idea of where Vero should go.”

The Fromang family has a long history here; Vernon Fromang was one of Vero Beach’s first physicians, arriving here in 1952.

David Fromang, 64, was the oldest of eight children. He met Debra when he was an intern and she was a nursing student working as an aide in the emergency room at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. They began dating a couple of years later, when she was getting her master’s degree in pediatric nursing.

They married while he was in his final year of residency in urology; she worked as a nurse practitioner at a women’s clinic at the University.

David and Debra Fromang moved to Vero Beach in 1976, just as David’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 1977 at age 56; David’s mother Sarah died ten years later.

Debra meanwhile, worked as David’s nurse in his urology practice. Within a few years, she became frustrated, she says. “I wanted to do more.”

It was 2003 when Fromang first entertained the notion of running for City Council. She went so far as to pick up the paperwork from city hall, but in the end, she did not file.

Two years later, in March of 2005, she ran, and won.

“I wanted to see dignity and professionalism in the council,” she says. “I thought I could bring to this job some of the things I had learned in a long life.”