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Hospital feud with District spins over into election

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of October 23, 2014)

Voters will get a chance in two weeks to weigh in on the ongoing dispute between Indian River Medical Center and the Hospital District by choosing between two candidates for District trustee who hold sharply different views on funding and other issues.

Laura Moss, former sales director for a large New York optical company, clearly sides with the current majority on the Hospital District, which has been seeking to get a better handle on hospital finances and cut back on growing IRMC demands for increased taxpayer funds for indigent care.

Marybeth Cunningham, a former automotive executive who has served on a variety of nonprofit boards, says she wants to support the hospital “as it grows and adds services,” and thinks the public airing of issues discourages donations to the hospital.

Moss has the support of most of the current Hospital District trustees for her effort to join them by winning the only contested seat; Cunningham has the support of most hospital and hospital foundation board members.

Moss feels that the hospital needs to do a better job answering questions asked by Hospital District trustees – even if the answers may not always make the hospital look well managed.

“The District has not been getting answers to reasonable, appropriate questions that deserve answers from the hospital. But hospital leadership has not been forthcoming,” said Moss.

Cunningham, however, worries that information which puts the hospital in a negative light unnecessarily erodes public confidence.

“I think there are better ways for the District to ask questions than public confrontation, which creates concern in the capability of the hospital and holds back giving,” said Cunningham.

While Moss expressed dismay over contradictory numbers disseminated by the hospital, Cunningham found the differing numbers understandable.

“I believe the hospital has a responsibility to explain the reason for those differences to the District, and, through them, the taxpayers,” said Moss.

“In business, it’s not unusual to give different facts to different groups, depending on the audience,” said Cunningham. But she also added: “Reality is important when you’re talking about finances.”

She adds: “I think I would bring the most business acumen to the position.”

Moss was the director of sales for a large optical company in New York for more than a decade.

“My job required a combination of medical and money knowledge and the ability to promote what we offered,” she said.

“I’ll be at everything from Rotary meetings, to town hall meetings to taxpayer meetings to tell what the District is doing and answer questions. The hospital has attempted to put the District in a negative light and I want to put a more accurate face on what the dedicated trustees of the Hospital District actually do, so I’ll be out there spreading the word,” said Moss, who points out that she has attended every District meeting for the past nine months.

“I commend Laura Moss for everything she has done,” said Cunningham, who in September attended her first Hospital District meeting.

But, said Cunningham, she doesn’t think that Moss’ greater dedication to learning about District issues over a longer period of time makes her the strongest candidate: “I’m watching and learning and figuring things out,” she said.

Cunningham decided to run because she wanted to be involved in providing excellent medical care to indigents in the county.

“One of the ways to do this is by supporting the hospital as it grows and adds services, which are made available to everyone, including indigents,” she said.

“While I am a strong supporter of the hospital, I can tell you that I have talked to hundreds of people and not one of them has said they want to see the hospital grow,” said Moss. “Instead, they tell me they want to see it fixed.