Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hospital Deal Clears Hurdle City's Indigent Payments Still a Sticking Point

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hospital Deal Clears Hurdle City's Indigent Payments Still a Sticking Point

Article excerpt

A Jacksonville hospital merger took a significant step toward completion this week, but health care and city officials still must finish sticky negotiations over how much the city will pay for indigent care.

Methodist Medical Center reached an agreement Wednesday with its bondholders, resolving an issue that could have sidetracked the union between Methodist and University Medical Center.

Officials seem optimistic that they soon will conclude their talks on the indigent care payments. The solution could involve the city raising its current contribution, which has not increased since the early 1980s.

University wants the city to increase its annual $18.5 million contribution to a figure closer to the hospital's actual expenses, which are about twice as much, said Lex Hester, the city's chief administrative officer.

Shands HealthCare and University officials are asking the city for an additional $3 million, people familiar with the negotiations said.

"There are dollar figures like that being discussed," said Paul Rosenberg, vice president and general counsel for Shands and a member of the health system's negotiating team for the Jacksonville project. The two merged Northside hospitals, to be known as Shands Jacksonville, will be affiliated with Gainesville-based Shands.

Last year, University spent about $37 million on indigent care for Duval County, said spokeswoman Jane Ziebarth. While hospital administrators want Jacksonville to increase its share, the city will not be asked to make up the entire difference, in part because it contributes other public money to the hospital.

A deal on indigent care could be completed as early as next week.

"We're very close," Hester said. He declined to give specific amounts being discussed.

Although the indigent care payments in the discussions are "not final," Rosenberg said, "I think we're well along the way there."

The indigent care arrangement is the last major hurdle facing the merger after hospital officials agreed to transfer Methodist's bonds at their full value to Shands Jacksonville. …

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