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Hospital, district still at odds over new Cancer Center

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of November 21, 2013)

A summit meeting between the board of the Indian River Medical Center and the Hospital District trustees, who direct $8 million in taxpayer money to the hospital, failed to produce a consensus Monday on whether and how to proceed with construction of a $30 million Cancer Center.

Hospital District trustees, who still have major concerns on hospital operations, hospital financial stability and the effect a new Cancer Center will have on both, will meet again Thursday to vote on whether or not approve the Cancer Center – and the outcome is by no means assured.

“It is difficult for us to be oblivious to the things that so affect our community,” District chairman Tom Spackman told the hospital board. “We would like to normalize the relationship between the District and the hospital but there are real issues here.”

The debate between the hospital board and the District Trustees centered on an exchange between District trustee Trevor Smith and hospital board member Jack Weissbaum, who said that the new Cancer Center “will improve the financial strength of the hospital.” Weissbaum said the center would generate $12 million over five years, but failed to mention it would depend on a $13.5 million subsidy from donors.

Smith questioned whether the Cancer Center would strengthen hospital’s finances, if it was based on donor support, and asked Weissbaum if the hospital had “a never-ending guarantee from the donors.” Weissbaum responded that some donor money would be available after five years and if that ran out, the hospital “could always go back to the status quo.”

Spackman said after the meeting he wondered what that meant: After building a shiny new building, filling it with state-of-the-art equipment and staffing it with a well-paid oncological director, as well as staff, would the hospital vacate the new building if finances dried up?

While no one from hospital management answered questions at the Monday meeting, the issue will be a huge concern to the majority of Hospital District trustees when they vote on whether to approve building the Cancer Center on Thursday.

Hospital board member Paul Nezi suggested a compromise: “Why not wait until the hospital is on sound financial footing before proceeding? Isn’t the more prudent approach to wait?”

Nezi said that like the District trustees, he supported the Cancer Center but he questioned moving ahead so quickly because of so many concerns.

Before the joint meeting, District chairman Spackman said he hoped it would be “a healing event” for the hospital and the District. But while everyone was polite and shook hands at the end of Monday’s meeting, very little seemed to have changed.