A Response to Lee Health Town Hall Meetings

By: Mike Meunier

As a member and sponsor of the SWFL Business Alliance and Network, I attend many networking events. I find it helpful in my current career to be plugged into the community. At one specific meeting, the discussion among the other small business owners was regarding the rumors about Lee Health and their recent decision to become a “For Profit” Hospital system. Why would Lee Health want to do that?

I have had many conversations with clients regarding the cost of healthcare and how to pay for it in retirement. The last thing they want to hear is whether the costs are going up or they cannot get the same care they had been getting. In a previous career in a hospital healthcare system, I served my community at a non-profit as a CCO as part of our Administrative Healthcare Leadership team, where I was a participant in hospital strategic planning and operations, so I decided I had to go and attend one of these town halls and ask Lee Health Board members and leadership why a three billion dollar system would choose to become “for profit” and therefore have to pay property taxes and loose significant benefits Centers for Medicare and Medicaid non-profits are afforded.

Non-Profits do not pay taxes if they provide community benefit. More about that in a minute. In my experience, the only time a healthcare provider system becomes “for profit” is because it is bought by a larger “for profit”. No one at the town hall mentioned anything about being bought out. Quite the contrary. Lee Health’s goal is to strengthen its ability to fulfill its mission and compete on an even playing field for the patients it serves. Lee Health, as a government-run organization, maintains five districts with an elected board of 10 members, two board members representing each of the districts that make up the ten-member board. If a private non-profit is in the direction they go, they would re-write the bylaws to require a ten-member board with representation from those same areas of Lee County. It would be foolish not to.

The advantage of remaining non-profit but becoming a private non-profit will allow Lee Health to expand outside of its Lee County boundaries if it chooses to, with the goal of expanding geographically and providing more access to care. It is important they explore potential growth opportunities as other healthcare systems plan to move into the area. Lee Health leadership made it clear this is a process of fact-finding and exploring the possibility of this conversion. The community was encouraged to ask questions, and many concerns were raised surrounding the topic of who will now provide care for the indigent, the poor, the mentally challenged, and alike.

 Lee Health is a safety net hospital system and must provide these services to maintain its non-profit status. They must show a percentage of revenue in community benefit. In the 2023 statistics provided, Lee had a net community benefit of over 165 million dollars. This number includes charity care, unpaid Medicaid insurance write offs, as well as several funded community outreach and educational programs. This will not change. To maintain non-profit status, this access to care will not change and should not change. Lee will still accept the same insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, as they do now. To the public, the patient care, the costs, services, and the patient experience should not be affected. Because Lee Health does not receive funding from Lee County resident tax dollars, it will rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and insurance payments, as well as in philanthropic development work, donations, and various government programs for funding.

Comments to Mr. Meunier can be addressed to: press@eastleecountynews.com

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