Study recommends continued county support of organization
Ocala, FL, May 27, 2018 – Almost a year ago, the Marion County Hospital District’s board of trustees was reluctant to finance the Heart of Florida Health Center — not because there wasn’t a need for the area’s largest provider of healthcare to the poor, but because it felt the operation wasn’t on the right track.
Heart of Florida was over budget and facing cuts from federal and state coffers. At the time, the County Commission balked at a request to almost double its contribution, and hoped instead to foist the $380,000 annual payment onto the Hospital District, arguing the district was in a better position to fund the program thanks to the more than $200 million in cash it had received in 2014 when leasing Munroe Regional Medical Center to Community Health Systems.
The Hospital Board commissioned an indigent care study last June to take a closer look at the overall state of healthcare for the poor in the county and examine how the different providers were doing. The Hospital District and the County Commission recently held a joint meeting to review the study.
During the study period, however, Heart of Florida, which operates eight clinics in the county, hired a new chief executive officer. He brought a renewed sense of focus and streamlined operations — so much so that Hospital District trustees felt more comfortable with the prospect of partnering with the clinic.
“The reluctance on the part of the district was we did not happen to get a real warm, fuzzy feeling that Heart of Florida was being run at an optimum level. We didn’t feel good about dumping money into an organization that was not doing the best work it could,” said Rich Bianculli, chairman of the Hospital District’s board of trustees.
While not making a commitment, Bianculli said the changes brought by new CEO Jamie Ulmer are encouraging.
“Personally, I feel a lot more comfortable about bringing a conversation up about (this) with the district,” he said.
County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant said the commission is gearing up for 2018-19 budget negotiations soon. “I think what our board would like to ask is that your board (the Hospital District) would have that discussion,” she said. “We ask that you would consider, if not funding the $380,000, possibly helping us with that $380,000. We would greatly appreciate it.”
The study found that almost 31,000 people in Marion County qualified as medically indigent. Many continue to use the area’s hospital emergency rooms for primary medical care, racking up more than $3 million in unpaid medical bills in 2016.
The county allocates more than $9 million for indigent health care, not including the $7 million spent for healthcare at the Marion County Jail, which is a leading provider of indigent healthcare in the area.
The study’s authors, Health Management Associates, recommended the county continue funding Heart of Florida and made specific reference to Ulmer’s commitment to cost savings and increasing revenue.
Ulmer, who took over as CEO for Heart of Florida in January, renegotiated contracts and cut costs to improve the organization’s bottom line. He also is pushing for new programs that would help patients and bring in additional revenue. In August, the center will open its own pharmacy, which will offer patients the convenience of filling prescriptions at a central facility at a cheaper price. Because of Heart of Florida’s status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), drug companies deeply discount medications, which in turn means Heart of Florida will see more returns from reimbursement payments.
The center also has negotiated with the Thomas E. Langley Medical Center and Ocala Regional Medical Center to relocate the hospital’s internal medicine residency program to Heart of Florida’s central facility. Langley operates an FQHC clinic near Silver Springs Shores, and had both ORMC’s internal medicine residency and the family medicine residency programs.
That deal will help with patient backlogs at Heart of Florida and bring in an estimated $250,000 in revenue from reimbursement payments.
“This is only going to help everyone. It’s a win, win for everybody,” Ulmer said.
Several years ago, Heart of Florida took over three clinics formerly run by the Florida Department of Health in Marion County. The DOH paid the group $1 million to help with costs. But last year, the DOH announced it would stop funding the operation in five years, reducing the amount it contributed by 20 percent every year. That contribution is at $800,000 this year.
Ulmer, however, said there is hope the DOH will not stop funding completely. “We are already in conversations with the Department of Health about reviewing that contract to stabilize it going forward. I think it’s highly likely we won’t get to zero,” he said.
There are also plans of constructing a new building where the central clinic, dental clinic and administration offices can consolidate. That would save on rent and operations costs.
“We hope to make an announcement on that before the end of the year,” Ulmer said.
Medina, C. E. (2018, May 27). New CEO has given Heart of Florida Health Center fresh momentum. Ocala Star Banner. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.ocala.com/news/20180527/new-ceo-has-given-heart-of-florida-health-center-fresh-momentum