For many decades, the board that governs Tampa General Hospital has been made up of pillars of the community, often wealthy ones. And they did the job of running the regional hospital that serves as a safety net for the poor for free.
Not any more.
Recently, the board made up of prominent business figures, philanthropists and doctors voted to pay themselves for their services. Yearly compensation would range from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on a board member's committees and assignments.
After voting no, David A. Straz Jr., for whom Tampa Bay's performing arts center is named, promptly quit the hospital board on which he had proudly served for nearly 20 years. He was the only board member present to vote against it, he said this week.
"I think it's a horrible idea," Straz said. "Tampa General is a very important community asset. Those of us in the community need to donate our services to make those kinds of things better for all of our people in the community."
"I decided that was not a place for me to continue donating my time," Straz said.
Board members on the 15-member panel meet six times a year, serve on committees that range from finance to quality and attend strategic retreats with hospital staff.
Straz said the proposal to get paid was promoted by board chairman John Brabson Jr., who recently retired as CEO of Lykes Insurance.
Brabson could not be reached for comment this week. Others on the board did not return calls or also could not be reached.
Hospital spokesman John Dunn said no board members have yet been compensated and no schedule has been set for doing so, though the mechanism is now in place. Some board members indicated they would not accept pay for a variety of reasons, Dunn said, including that service on the board was part of their current job description. He did not know which board members indicated they did not want to get paid.
Dunn said the board brought in a "compensation consultant" the hospital uses yearly to calculate executive salaries. That consultant determined "there was a small but growing trend to start paying board members some stipend."
"The board believes this is a useful tool to have in the future as the hospital world expands and the hospital gets a lot more complex," Dunn said. "There may be a time when you have to consider paying board members with different types of expertise."
Another private, not-for-profit hospital in the bay area, All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg, does not compensate community members who sit on its governing board of trustees. The same goes for Florida Hospital Tampa.
Tampa General Hospital opened on Davis Islands in 1927. In 1997, after a bitter public debate, the hospital went private after hospital leaders argued that going nonprofit was the only way to preserve Tampa General's financial ability to serve the poor in a brutal, fast-changing health care environment.
Tampa General's Level 1 trauma center and burn center take in patients regionwide. Last year, the hospital saw more than 95,000 emergency and trauma center visits, and spent $83 million on caring for the indigent. The hospital recently lifted a hiring freeze.
Some of Tampa's prominent family names have appeared on the hospital's board — including kings of Gasparilla and members of the Tampa Yacht Club.
"For how many years did people work (on the board) without any pay just for the love of service to the hospital?" said Hillsborough court clerk Pat Frank, who served on the hospital authority board. "It's public service. It's not supposed to be for anyone to have any compensation."
Straz said he was "very disappointed" because he has a great fondness for Tampa General Hospital.
"My mother-in-law is in that hospital right now," he said, "and getting extraordinary care."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Sue Carlton can be reached at email@example.com.
CLARIFICATION: The board that governs Tampa General Hospital voted in October to give themselves the option of being paid between $15,000 and $30,000 a year for a job that had previously been uncompensated, with board member David A. Straz Jr. casting the lone no vote. At a meeting three months later, board member Erika Wallace said she had been unable to hear the discussion because of a bad telephone connection and asked that her vote also be recorded as no.