Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Bayfront looking closely at allegations

I am a business owner and civic leader, proud to call St. Petersburg home and privileged to serve as chair of the Bayfront Health System Board of Trustees. Our board is deep into a two-year process to redefine Bayfront's future in a way that propels it toward our goal to be our community's pre-eminent provider of health care services of the highest quality. Central to this redefinition is a partnership that will change the hospital's ownership by aligning our century-long legacy of service with capital partner Health Management Associates and clinical and educational partner Shands HealthCare.

This new Bayfront promises to be stronger and better positioned to meet the evolving needs of our community, while continuing current charity care policies and retaining Bayfront's team of 2,500 real heroes. A plan to infuse hundreds of millions of dollars not only into Bayfront, but also into the broader health care, education and research needs of the communities we serve, means the continued pursuit of the highest standard of health care for all of us.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired allegations about Health Management's admission and billing practices that understandably give pause for many in our community on Bayfront's plans for the future. Questions of whether continued momentum to build a partnership is misguided linger in our community's collective conscience. We understand the unease — these allegations initially elicited the same response in our board and leadership. This partnership serves as the defining act of Bayfront's second century of service. The magnitude is not lost on anyone involved in making this decision, and the only acceptable outcome is a sound decision based in diligent fact-gathering and legal review. The 60 Minutes segment, while compelling, does not tell us all we need to know about the culture, character and practices of our proposed partner.

A thorough due diligence process designed to provide a deep understanding of Health Management's philosophies, practices, culture and planned commitment to our community is the source that guides our position on their fit as a partner.

Due diligence has been a central element of our board's work to build a partnership from the beginning and will continue until a definitive agreement is executed. The 60 Minutes story is one component of a full complement of information about Health Management that our board is processing — and it stands out as an uncharacteristic anomaly of significant other data, testimony, character references and experiences we have collected.

Our due diligence efforts surfaced the allegations on which the 60 Minutes story is based months before it aired. Our board and leadership, guided by legal counsel, immediately set out to understand the full story through various sources. With litigation pending, the outcome of these allegations remains inconclusive. However, third-party investigations of both Health Management's admission and billing practices show no evidence of questionable behavior, practices or patterns — much less fraud. The 60 Minutes segment did not focus on this information. Fortunately, we've been able to access background to come to our own understanding of these allegations, independent of the accounts of either side — and our due diligence is not done.

Bayfront's board and leadership team enters this partnership with our eyes wide open. These serious allegations are being met with serious review and committed willingness to yield to the outcome delivered by facts, data and judgment. In keeping with our stewardship of Bayfront as an important community asset, we will not knowingly make any decision that compromises Bayfront's exemplary standards, commitment and culture. Nor can we sacrifice the transformational future this partnership promises to deliver without evidence and understanding of substance that warrants such action. The stakes — Bayfront's ability to care for all while continually elevating excellence — are too high.

While 60 Minutes attempts to stand as the judge and jury on these allegations in the court of public opinion, the litigation associated with these accusations is yet to be heard. Health Management offers an equally compelling defense against the claims, and the data of independent third parties supports their position. We will keep our community informed of our partnership's progress and remain committed to engineer an agreement that protects our rich legacy of service, ensuring its future for generations to come.

Bernie Young is chairman of the Bayfront Health System Board of Trustees.

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