TAMPA — The board that governs Tampa General Hospital has abandoned a controversial plan to pay its members for a job long considered public service.
Board members of the not-for-profit, private hospital that serves as a safety net for the poor voted last fall to give themselves the option of taking home $15,000 to $30,000 a year.
David A. Straz Jr., a member of the 15-person panel made up largely of prominent and wealthy business people, doctors, philanthropists and civic leaders, voted no and quit in protest.
Thursday, two days after the Tampa Bay Times broke news of the plan, board chairman John A. Brabson Jr. issued a three-paragraph statement rescinding it.
"While I believe providing compensation to board members will become a recruiting tool in the future, the board believes this is not the right time to move in that direction," wrote Brabson, the recently retired CEO of Lykes Insurance. "After talking to the hospital's senior leadership, the board has determined it is in the best interest of the hospital to no longer consider board compensation."
Those who said service on the hospital's board of directors is an integral and time-honored Tampa tradition welcomed the news.
"Hooray," said Jan Platt, a former Hillsborough County commissioner who served on the hospital authority board for 20 years. "They had no business in voting for that salary, and I'm glad they thought twice. The public is watching."
Platt said the board has a responsibility because of the millions in public money that goes into the hospital that serves the county's indigent residents. "If they can't serve on a free basis, then they need to resign," she said.
Earlier this week, Straz said he had gotten many calls about his decision to quit the board on which he had served for nearly two decades — all supportive.
He called compensation "a horrible idea" and said members should donate their time for the betterment of their community.
Board members meet six times a year, attend retreats and serve on committees. The decision to pay themselves came after they brought in a "compensation consultant" who determined there was "a small but growing trend" to pay such board members a stipend, according to a hospital spokesman.
At a meeting three months after the vote to pay themselves, board member Erika Wallace said she too wanted her vote recorded as no because she hadn't been able to hear the discussion due to a bad phone line.
In his statement Thursday announcing the plan was no more, Brabson wrote: "My intent was to create a tool that could help us recruit board members from beyond the Tampa Bay area with broader expertise to strategically navigate the rapidly changing environment and increasing complexities of health care.
"The board does not want this issue to distract the hospital from its mission of providing the best medical care to all people of west central Florida," he wrote.
Florida Hospital Tampa and All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg, also private not-for-profit hospitals, do not pay their community governing boards.
Thursday, Straz said the decision was "certainly the right thing."
"I believe strongly that the board members serve as a public service," he said.
Sue Carlton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.