By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Bert Fish Medical Center has gotten two proposals in its search for a partner or a buyer to help strengthen the 116-bed hospital, the only one in Southeast Volusia County.
Halifax Health in Daytona Beach and Health Management Associates of Naples each submitted proposals by the Dec. 20 deadline.
The Bert Fish/Southeast Volusia Hospital District Board of Commissioners is reviewing the proposals and will meet in January to publicly consider them and the next steps.
Health Management Associates has 70 hospitals in 15 mostly southeastern states. Halifax Health has 20 hospital and office locations in the greater Daytona Beach area.
For nearly a year, Bert Fish has worked with its consultants, Community Hospital Corp. of Plano, Texas, and Carlton Fields, a legal firm, toward "its goal of a position of greater strength and sustainability," according to a hospital release.
"We began a lengthy, comprehensive process to find a strategic partner early in 2012 and while we were expecting a few more responses to the RFP, we have received what appear to be two substantive, well-developed proposals worthy of consideration," said Steve Harrell, CEO of Bert Fish.
A judge voided a possible Bert Fish merger with Adventist Health last year when it was disclosed that closed meetings leading to the merger were held in violation of Florida's Sunshine Law.
Bert Fish already operates its cancer facilities through a partnership with Halifax Health, which provides physicians and shares in expenses. Halifax also shared in the cost of a new $3.7 million linear accelerator so cancer patients could remain closer to home for treatment.
Ann Martorano, administrator for Halifax Health-Medical Center of Port Orange and Chief Marketing/Human Resources Officer for Halifax Health, said last week, "Basically we're proposing (Bert Fish) stay a public facility and we have a lease agreement between the two entities."
She said the lease
would be similar to the arrangement Bert Fish had with Adventist Health System before legal issues intervened.
"That's very common and not unusual," she said. "We want to let them remain as much in control of that hospital as possible. They would still have their public status."
She said both organizations can help each other, especially with funding.
Halifax would continue with the joint oncology program with Halifax physicians, such as radiation and medical oncologists.
The decision on the future of Bert Fish will be up to the board of directors.
In submitting its partnership proposal, HMA has offered both a straight lease as well as a joint venture agreement similar to its arrangements with Orlando Health and the University of Florida/Shands Healthcare. It is similar to one submitted to Bert Fish two years ago, except Orlando Health has now agreed to act as a clinical partner, said Pete Lawson, executive vice president of development for HMA.
"We would also work closely with Shands Healthcare to improve additional clinical expertise from our existing relationship with them as well as their relationship with Orlando Health," Mr. Lawson said
Only the full board in a public meeting can make decisions concerning the future of Bert Fish. There will be a process of presentations, discussion, due diligence and negotiations that will lead the board to a number of possible conclusions, said new Bert Fish marketing director Craig Bair,
"Everybody has to partner up with someone to help with capital needs and physician recruiting," said Ms. Martorano of Halifax. "We'd like to let that hospital remain in local control and fulfill its mission of taking care of everyone" as well as reduce the number of patients who would have to leave the area for medical care.
Based on their review, the Board of Commissioners may request additional information on the proposals as submitted.
The board also could receive public comment on the proposals with anticipated interviews of the two healthcare organizations to be conducted in February. A decision on whether to move forward with a strategic partnership will be made soon after.