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Sebastian River Medical Center $75K in arrears on utility bills

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of January 18, 2024)

As national reports show Steward Health Care’s network of hospitals deeply in arrears on rent, public records show Sebastian River Medical Center several months behind in bills for essential utility services.

The hospital’s utility bills are public record, and a ledger of those bills show SRMC started out 2023 owing $33,000 in water and sewer bills to Indian River County Utilities. Payments were made in the first half of the year to catch up, but at the end of December the balance due for the main hospital facility was more than $75,000.

This represents roughly six months of water service, as monthly bills average between $12,000 and $13,000. The last payment made on the account was on July 3, for $43,173.75. The hospital has incurred nearly $5,000 in late fees and penalties since January 2023.

County officials did not respond when asked if some special arrangements had been made with the hospital to ensure that the water and sewer services remained on despite the delinquency.

Messages left for SRMC CEO Ronald Bierman, and with the Steward media office in Rockledge, were not returned as of press time.

On Jan. 6, the Wall Street Journal reported that Steward Health Care System, which took over Sebastian River Medical Center in 2017, was $50 million behind on hospital rents nationwide, owed to landlord Medical Properties Trust or MPT.

The Journal story quoted Medical Properties Trust as saying it would extend a $60 million loan to Steward, and postpone collecting on some 2024 rent to keep the hospital chain temporarily afloat.

The 145-bed hospital, which was taken over by Steward Health in 2017, is not only behind on its utility bills – and presumably invoices from local vendors – but it has also been fined repeatedly for lax financial reporting.

As part of its responsibility to license and oversee healthcare providers, the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration reviews annual financial reports to make sure hospitals have the resources to keep operating and serving patients. Reporting to AHCA includes filing a copy of the hospital’s audited financial statements annually, plus a separate financial report through the Florida Hospital Uniform Reporting System so hospitals can be compared with set criteria on an apples-to-apples basis. Hospitals must also reconcile any discrepancies between the financials and the uniform report. All of this must be done within 120 days of the close of each fiscal year.

On June 13, 2023, SRMC CEO Bierman was sent a certified letter by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration’s compliance department which stated, “A fine of $10,300 is imposed on the above-named licensee based upon the licensee’s failure to timely file its Dec. 31, 2021 audited financial statements. This is in addition to the $34,000 fine levied earlier. This constitutes the licensee’s third violation.”

The hospital had missed the May 30, 2022 deadline to file the financials by more than a year – finally providing them to the state regulatory agency on June 13, 2023.

Vero Beach 32963 has requested copies of the hospital’s recent financial statements and reports filed with AHCA.