Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What's Behind US Sugar Hospital Attack?

An Open Letter To Robert Coker, U.S. Sugar Corp.

(In recent months, U.S. Sugar Corp. has been in court to obtain documents
regarding Hendry Regional Hospital's financial records. Hendry county's
largest company alleges financial mismanagement at the hospital, as well as
infers inappropriate connections between one of its vendors and the
Hospital Board Chairman, Miller Couse. The hospital's largest vendor,
Physical Therapy Dynamics if owned by Couse's wife. -Ed.)

Mr. Robert Coker,

Recently I received a letter signed by you posing the question of "Where is
our tax money going?" regarding the Hendry Regional Medical Center. In
your mailed letter and as well, the subsequent newspaper advertisement
posted in the Caloosa Belle you have repeatedly accused Hendry Regional
Medical Center of mismanagement of tax dollars. But, there is quite a bit
of information that you have failed to disclose.

In your letter you stated that hospital failed to make tough management
decisions and instead elected to increase the property tax rate. The key
information that you failed to include is that the hospital relies on these
property taxes to pay for medical care provided to the uninsured in our
community. According to the State of Florida's Agency for Health Care
Administration Florida Health Insurance Report release January 2001 the
district that was comprised of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands,
Monroe, and Okeechobee counties had the highest uninsured rate in the state
at a rate of 25.5 percent uninsured. It is quite obvious where our tax
proceeds are being used given that HRMC utilizes 96% of these taxes to
fund the services provided to the uninsured. In addition, given the
increase in the population of Hendry and Glades counties, and the
proportional increase in uninsured patients, is there any question as to
how the hospital is operating at a loss and sees this loss to continue in
the future.

Additional statistics from the Health Insurance Report reveal that "only
3.0 percent of those who are insured report that their usual source of care
is the hospital emergency room, compared to 13.8 percent of those who are
uninsured. By contrast, the uninsured are less likely than the insured to
report the doctor's office outside a hospital as their usual source of care
(44.4 percent versus 68.3 percent)." Hendry Regional Medical Center serves
as a resource to those that have no other venue in which to turn. Unlike
U.S. Sugar, Hendry Regional Medical Center is not focused on the business
of making money. HRMC is focused on the business of helping those that
need help and can not find it elsewhere. This, Mr. Coker, is something
that I will gladly support with my tax dollars.

However, Mr. Coker, what I don't support are the subsidies that are
provided to "Big Sugar" companies in the United States, which are provided
from my federal tax dollars. In 1998 the General Accounting Office
reported that the approximate annual cost to consumers to help maintain you
and your Big Sugar cohort's subsidies and artificially inflated pricing was
over $1.9 billion. To add injury to insult $7.2 million was provided to
Political Action Committees, and $5.7 million in soft money contributions
were made by "Big Sugar" to the political campaigns of candidates involved
in past and present Farm Bills. In 1996 on a state level, you and your
friends spent over $26 million to support referendums and gubernatorial
campaigns to help maintain your status quo. Clearly, the arguments that
you are making regarding the alleged misallocation of the hospital's use of
tax dollars pale in comparison.

Mr. Coker, my suggestion to you and U. S. Sugar is simple; either help, or
get out of the way. The repeated attacks, court subpoenas, direct mail,
and print advertisement campaigns don't gather you favor with the same
people that are keeping you and "Big Sugar" in business: The U.S.
taxpayers. Hendry Regional Medical Center holds the distinction of holding
open the door to help those with either the least or the greatest in our
community everyday. When, Mr. Coker, in the midst of this situation can
you say that you have helped at all?

-Mr. David Prater

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