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Former Sarasota Memorial Counsel Comments on “Medical Freedom”

Written by on Friday, May 17, 2024

Dan Bailey is optimistic about voters’ ability to pick the best candidates for the hospital board.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 15, 2024

Host: When it comes to serving the community and its most prominent institutions, Dan Bailey has been there, done it. The retired lawyer served as counsel for the Sarasota airport board, he has served on the United Way board, and the Patterson and Selby Foundations. He was also a general counsel for the Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The board that governs the public hospital is subject to the probably most contested of all local elections this year, as a slate of “medical freedom” candidates seeks to take control of the Sarasota Public Hospital Board — something that has caught national attention. Our news team was at a talk about the hospital Bailey gave Monday, hosted by the Florida Veterans for Common Sense.

Johannes Werner: Bailey spent most of his presentation at a church in suburban Sarasota showing slide after slide suggesting that Sarasota Memorial Hospital is one of the best-run and fastest growing hospitals in the United States. That should keep controversy and politics out of the hospital, Bailey seemed to signal. But it isn’t.

So he spent another half hour or so explaining the setup of the coming hospital board elections and answering questions about political controversy. Driving these elections is an attempt by “Medical Freedom” activists to take control of the hospital board. The activists are rallying around Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor and convicted felon who moved to Englewood a couple years ago. The four “Medical Freedom” candidates include Flynn’s sister.

If just two of the four get elected, the Medical Freedom slate would hold the majority on the board. This has worried local conservatives enough to make a concerted attempt to support four “mainstream” Republican candidates in this partisan race. And that, in turn, will make the Republican primaries on August 20 an event that will be closely watched by national media. There are also — so far — three Democrats running for the four seats. They will square off against the Republican winners in the November general elections.

Is Bailey worried? He said repeatedly he was confident that voters will “make the right choice”. He also suggested that the problem is not so much what board members want, but how they do their job.

Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey: My assessment is that the difficulty we’ve had is that the board is a bit divided right now. And it’s important for any collegial body to be marching in the same direction. So I don’t want to judge any of the three people who are on there now. If they had three more or a couple more, maybe if it was all of that belief, then maybe it would be at least be marching in the same direction.

I think it’s just been difficult for the board to focus on this long range planning, capital planning, because they, for a while they had large numbers of people showing up and consuming a couple of hours of their meetings. I’ve been to a lot of hospital meetings. I found them, uh, how should I say this? A little tedious. A lot of numbers. And so to have that, have it become contentious, has been a bit of a problem. And I, so I don’t know. I think if, if these folks were elected, maybe they’d all be in lockstep together, marching in a direction.

JW: The medical freedom activists are mostly known for what they DO NOT want. That includes epidemic isolation, lockdowns, and mask and vaccine mandates. Less known is what they DO want the hospital to do. Most recently, board member Victor Rohe wanted the hospital to make a statement in support of Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo’s controversial assertion that vaccines are risky and inappropriate.

The activists also want the hospital to change epidemic protocols. An internal investigation last year found that Sarasota Memorial actually outperformed most Florida hospitals during the COVID pandemic. That prompted backlash from the Medical Freedom activists who had asked for the investigation. At one point, Michael Flynn tweeted that the hospital should be privatized if it doesn’t change its way. Bailey sees this as a very remote possibility, given what he portrays as a bad track record of private hospitals.

DB: There’s medical freedom people that … I saw their website, they said we are not for privatization. Two, at least two of them, I think it was early, early on, want to make it clear they’re not for privatization. And I’m glad to hear that because , what you saw happen in Venice that I described to you a little bit earlier, it wasn’t a public hospital but it was a non-profit hospital for many years, and the quality of care went down, the level of service and that sort of thing went down.

One of the benefits of a public hospital is they don’t pay taxes, avalanche taxes. Another benefit is they get to collect taxes. So they can make, and they basically use their … Memorial can levy two mills. They generally only levy one mill and they use it for indigent care. So I can’t really think of any advantage to privatizing.  

JW: Asked by an audience member about what should be done if the Medical Freedom slate ends up controlling the hospital anyway, Bailey mused about the advantage of appointed versus elected boards. But then he returned to his optimism about voters.

DB: For offices that are less well known, the airport authority used to be elected. And we had some very difficult people that were elected to that board. I mean, they were, they came there to fight over just darn near anything. And about 24 years ago, we were able to get the legislature. I say we, some friends of the airport were able to get the legislature to change it to where it was appointed board. Appointed by the governor. So the governor appoints airport board members, and they happen to be people who are business people, and they’re running their own businesses, and they are too busy to micromanage the airport.  And so that’s worked out very well. 

I’m not saying every position ought to be appointed, but those that are a little lower profile than the big ones, the constitutional officers, maybe they should all be appointed, I don’t know. But I think the voters, generally speaking, can figure things out. I think they’re the … for those people who are alarmed at what happened at the hospital last election or alarmed at what happened at school board last election, they’re going to be paying attention this time. And if they don’t support that, then they’ll make their voice heard in the polls.

JW: This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News from Sarasota.


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