Jackson seeks huge infusion of funds
MIAMI — Voters across Miami-Dade County will determine the future of their main healthcare institution in a referendum Tuesday when the Jackson Health System asks voters to approve an $830 million bond issue to pay for a major modernization plan.
Voters will be asked to approve a general obligation bond that is earmarked specifically for the wholesale and comprehensive overhaul of Jackson Memorial Hospital’s three locations and other upgrades.
The total price tag for what supporters say are investments in the well-being of residents will be spread out across the next decade.
Proponents of the bond referendum, who include a cross-section of Jackson executives, organized labor and business people, say that a “yes” vote will pay to modernize existing facilities, such as emergency and operating rooms.
The ballot language reads: “Shall Miami-Dade County fund modernization, improvement and equipping of Jackson Health System’s facilities located throughout the County, including, but not limited to, emergency rooms, children’s ambulatory pavilion and urgent care centers, by issuing, from time to time, General Obligation Bonds payable from ad valorem taxes collected in Miami-Dade County in principal amount not exceeding $830,000,000, bearing interest not exceeding maximum legal rate and maturing within 30 years from issuance date?”
Jackson officials estimate the 30-year bond will cost a homeowner whose property is valued at $173,943 after the homestead exemption about $6.20 in the first year and $30.99 at the peak year.
That additional property tax would come after voters approved a hike a year ago for schools which will cost $4.30 for every $100,000 of taxable property.
Combined, they could pose a problem for the hospital bond at a time of continuing economic weakness and job losses.
Also, the system is only now emerging from a protracted period of deficits totaling hundreds of millions of dollars and questions linger over the system’s ability to manage its money.
However, proponents of the Jackson bond say residents will be getting a good deal and the result will be improvement of a key community institution.
Carlos Migoya, president and CEO of the Jackson Health System, said it comes down to this: “If we make the right investments in Jackson now, we can empower Jackson to thrive for the future. That’s what our community wants and expects.”
In addition to Jackson’s main location in the area of Northwest Twelfth Avenue off State Road 826, the county-owned healthcare system operates Jackson North in North Miami-Dade near the Golden Glades Interchange and Jackson South in South Miami-Dade on Southwest 152nd Street.
Jackson officials also plan to use the funds to build urgent care centers, a physical rehabilitation facility, a pediatric ambulatory pavilion and buy the most advanced equipment.
But the bond proposal has its opponents, including those who object to the price tag. Commissioner Juan Zapata, who cast the lone dissenting vote against it in the Miami-Dade County Commission, was worried about the amount of the bond. He also argued that Jackson should be converted into a not-for-profit healthcare system and taken out of the control of politicians.
Farid A. Khavari, a Miami-based economist who has run for Florida governor and Miami-Dade mayor, said in a commentary in the Gold Coast Chronicle that the bond amount should have been lowered to $200 million, which would pay for the creation of “40 Super Clinics all over Miami-Dade County,”
using vacant buildings, with extended evening and weekend hours.
“Every person in the county would have access within two hours to any state-of-the-art medical machine that exists,” Khavari said.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson is among the supporters. Long thought of as the only hospital where Miami’s “indigent and working poor” could go for medical care, the system wants to attract and care for a larger number of insured patients, she said.
“The most important thing for people to remember is that Jackson Memorial is the people’s hospital,” Edmonson said. “There is a lot that is at stake. It’s just important that we not allow Jackson Memorial to fail. It’s definitely too big to fail.”
If the bond is not approved, the county-owned system could find itself “in the red,” which could very well end up costing taxpayers more than what the bond would, Edmonson said.
“This community has invested in Jackson because we need a great public hospital,” she said. Martha Baker, president of Service
Employees International Union Local 1991 and a longtime trauma nurse at Jackson, also backs the bond issue.
“There have been many times in Miami-Dade where it would have been an utter tragedy if we didn’t have Jackson, times when the private hospitals decided to close their trauma units because they weren’t profitable, mass casualty incidents and cases that other hospitals just don’t have the personnel trained to handle, charity cases that only we will take,” Baker said.
“We also train many of the healthcare professionals that go on to work in hospitals and clinics throughout South Florida. So an investment in Jackson is really an
investment in the health of this entire community.”
Baker said the union is “committed to Jackson as a public hospital, as this community’s safety net.
“Supporting the bond is one way that we’re working to make sure Jackson is successful and sustainable for our children and grandchildren,” she said.
One aspect missing from the bond measure as it appears on the ballot concerns accountability for the funds if the issue is approved.
Edmonson said she has insisted on what she calls “the next step: a task force to govern how the money is being spent.”
Edmonson has proposed that the County Commission appoint an oversight committee comprising residents to ensure transparency at each stage.