BY BUDDY NEVINS
When the commissioner arguably closest to the governor resigns from the Broward Health governing board, change at the public hospital system can’t be far off.
Sheela VanHoose’s biting resignation letter on December 23 was a bombshell.
Since the resignation took place over the Holidays, the potential impact was largely ignored locally.
But Tallahassee has not ignored VanHoose’s highly critical two-page letter to Gov. Rick Scott, according to several Browardbeat.com sources.
VanHoose wrote that Broward Health was being ruined by those with “self-serving and political agendas coated with infighting and grandstanding.”
She blasted the other commissioners as “an overtly political board.”
She noted accurately that Broward Health’s crippled governance did not start with Scott. As a reporter who covered the hospital system in the 1990s, I can confirm the problems date from the era when Democrats controlled the system.
Van Hoose pleaded with Scott that, “Our community deserves better…Save Broward Health.”
The letter is important because VanHoose, although only 30, has enormous clout in Tallahassee. She perhaps has the best access to Capital mover-and-shakers of anyone closely involved with Broward Health.
VanHoose earned her influence through hard work, not campaign contributions.
An early supporter of Scott, she was the Broward field director in his first 2010 campaign. She impressed Scott and those around him.
When Scott took control in Tallahassee, VanHoose as a special assistant to governor. A year later, she became Scott’s scheduling director.
A hometown gal who graduated from Nova Southeastern and Florida Atlantic Universities, VanHoose returned to Broward in July 2013 for another big job — Broward Public Schools’ chief staff lobbyist.
As a political operative for School Superintendent Robert Runcie, VanHoose was instrumental in getting the $800 million bond issue passed in 2014. After the election, she left the schools for another major résumé builder — lobbyist for Charter Schools USA.
Part of the politically formidable charter school industry, VanHoose is in Tallahassee regularly meeting with legislators and the governor’s office for her client. She is no doubt also telling lawmakers that a bill that would combine Broward Health into Memorial Healthcare System probably won’t work.
Fixing Broward Health
Memorial Healthcare System is the Hollywood-based public hospital district for the southern third of the county. A merger of the two public health systems would end a lot of duplication, but would saddle Memorial with Broward Health’s problems.
Problems include special monitoring of federal law compliance. This is part of a settlement with the Feds stemming from allegations that Broward Health violated anti-kickback statutes. In addition to the monitoring, Broward Health paid $70 million.
The politically cynical note another reason why the merger wouldn’t work.
Separate groups of physicians, lobbyists and staff at the two systems generate hundreds of thousands dollars in campaign contributions. Two hospital systems. Two huge bags of money.
Since most of these contributions end up with Republicans, Scott is unlikely to change the setups.
Still others suggest that Broward Health be privatized which would be a highly complex deal.
VanHoose has another simple idea which could be enacted this year. She says her plan would increase the accountability of Broward Health commissioners and thus help clean up the system.
“The governor should have the authority to appoint and remove Broward Health commissioners. Commissioners should serve at the will of the governor,” she told Browardbeat.com.
Right now the governor appoints the commissioner and then has questionable ability to remove them.
Scott removed Browrd Health Commissioner David Di Pietro last year. A Broward Circuit Court judge ruled the governor couldn’t remove Di Pietro.
Under VanHoose’s proposal, a new law would state clearly that the governor has the ability to remove a commission who is not doing the job.
The Broward Health governing commission is currently accountable to no one, VanHoose said, adding,“I believe this is doable legislatively.”
She also suggests a gubernatorial task force which would “study and discuss with the community what is best in the future for the patients, doctors, staff and entire community” in terms of governing Broward Health.
What Scott has planned for Broward Health is buried for now within his gleaming bald dome. This whole mess is in his wheelhouse. Scott made made his multi-million dollar fortune forming and running the largest for-profit health care system in the nation, Columbia/HCA. He knows the hospital business thoroughly.
There is no doubt among Republicans that VanHoose’s criticism has gained his attention.
If her letter ends up prompting Scott and lawmakers to change the way Broward Health is governed, it would be the start of fixing a dysfunctional system.
That’s a good thing.
The resignation letter: