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Death of Hospital District treasurer roils indigent care negotiations

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of July 10, 2014)
Caption: Hospital District Treasurer Trevor Smith.

The death last week of Hospital District Treasurer Trevor Smith, whose 2011 Jaguar veered off AIA and slammed into the concrete base of a utility pole, leaves the community stunned and saddened, as well as perplexed about how contentious negotiations over the indigent care agreement will now play out.

Smith, 74, was the District’s point man in negotiations with Indian River Medical Center over what amount the District will pay the hospital in tax dollars for indigent care in fiscal 2014-2015, and the time allotted for arriving at that amount is running out.

“The fact that he’s no longer with us may have a critical negative effect on our dealings with the hospital,” said Hospital District Chairman Tom Spackman.

“Trevor was tremendously well respected as a financial person and a real gentleman. He had a great deal of knowledge and finesse when negotiating, and I’m not sure how this will go without him,” said District Trustee Burton Lee.

Over the past few months, Smith frequently described the negotiations with the hospital as “frustrating” because the hospital was so slow to budge from its original position and actually negotiate.

“This is pretty much the District negotiating with itself,” he lamented to his fellow District trustees at a Monday morning meeting last week.

When reminded by a trustee that hospital leaders recently questioned his numbers expertise, Smith, who like the other six District trustees worked for free, quipped, “I guess that’s why I don’t make the big bucks and they do.”

Smith’s position in the most recent negotiations with the hospital over the reimbursement rate was that the District had yielded enough and should go to arbitration rather than yield more to the hospital.

“You can be sure that we’re sticking with that decision and will not betray Trevor,” said trustee Lee Wednesday, after learning of Smith’s death.

Prior to his death Tuesday evening, Smith attended a finance committee meeting at the hospital.  After dinner with his wife Jerri McPherson and friends at Dockside, Smith began the drive to his Island Club home on the north end of the barrier island.

Instead of following her husband home, McPherson had stopped at an ATM and was about five minutes behind him. When she got to the site of the accident, she first saw the flashing lights of police cars and fire rescue trucks, then her husband’s car.

While police speculated that the accident was caused by a medical event – probably a heart attack – because there were no skid marks or other evidence to show that Smith tried to brake, the medical examiner’s office said it was impossible to determine whether the accident was immediately preceded by a heart attack.

Smith was dead before arriving at Indian River Medical Center, where he had been three hours earlier for the meeting.

Smith was passionate about the Vero Beach community and helping out through volunteering and contributions. He was particularly drawn to causes that help the poor and the homeless, as well as the environment. In 2010, he was elected to the Hospital District and became its treasurer.

He also was an enthusiastic bridge player, golfer and Dodgers’ fan. He recently joked with friends that the two biggest frustrations in his life were “trying to get straight answers about finances from the hospital and not getting better at golf.”