ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg City Council members on Thursday chided Bayfront Medical Center officials for not disclosing that their new partner — for-profit hospital chain HMA — was under investigation by TV's 60 Minutes.
Council member Wengay Newton said leaders from Bayfront and Naples-based Health Management Associates knew of the 60 Minutes story at their initial city workshop in November and should have disclosed it.
"You didn't think we were worthy enough to be informed about accusations about the partner you selected that will have a 50-year lease," he said. Bayfront sits on public property, so the deal must be vetted by the council.
"I know the benefits of going through with this,'' Newton continued. "But at the same time, I can't close a blind eye to what happens to the property that belongs to the taxpayers of St. Petersburg."
Still, elected officials are moving ahead with the deal, aimed at strengthening the financially challenged hospital. Since the partnership was announced last fall, concerns have focused on ensuring that Bayfront continue its commitment to serving the community's poor.
At Thursday's workshop, council members heard about proposed revisions to the city's lease with the hospital, including removing the requirement that it be not-for-profit.
Council member Charlie Gerdes asked for charity care levels to be committed in writing. Hospital officials say they can't set charity quotas, but the new lease will detail its aid policies.
The revised lease will preserve the secular status of Bayfront, which once tried to team with the region's largest hospital system, not-for-profit BayCare Health System. That deal ran aground because of BayCare's Catholic ties.
Mayor Bill Foster told the council that Bayfront did talk with not-for-profit systems about a partnership. "The fit just wasn't there," he said.
Foster supports the deal with HMA, which would acquire an 80 percent controlling interest in Bayfront and make it the flagship of a regional network.
HMA has pledged to invest $100 million in Bayfront over five years, with no layoffs. The hospital would pay city taxes.
Bayfront officials were not deterred by 60 Minutes, which they considered in their due diligence review of HMA. It included visits to HMA hospitals in Florida and Tennessee and a review of public and private records requested from the company.
"Our board is 100 percent satisfied that this is the right partner for our organization and our community," Bayfront CEO and president Sue Brody told the council.
Council members scheduled for Jan. 31 another workshop on Bayfront's new lease, which was not available for their review.
Bayfront wants the City Council to vote on the new lease on Feb. 7, but city officials did not commit. Bayfront and HMA hope to close on the deal in late March.
Letitia Stein can be reached at [email protected]