| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Last week’s stunning $25 million gift by the family of Brian and Sheila Jellison to Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s emerging Cancer Institute – the largest donation in the history of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation – is a dramatic but typical example of the intimate relationship that develops between patients in Sarasota County and their public hospital.
Brian Jellison, the former CEO and chairman of Roper Technologies in Lakewood Ranch, died of cancer in 2018. His wife sent a note to oncologist Richard Brown, the institute’s medical director, thanking him for being a compassionate guide for the family. “When dealing with cancer, hope is the most important element,” she wrote.
The births and deaths that compose the daily drama at any hospital, the joys and sorrows and medical marvels, often elicit outpourings of gratitude and generosity. But at Sarasota Memorial, it isn’t only philanthropists who help keep the doors open to everyone in need of care. This year county taxpayers will provide nearly $65 million, a little under 6% of the health care system’s billion-dollar budget. The ad valorem tax gives us an added stake in Sarasota Memorial’s fortunes, and considerable say in its operations and long-term strategy.
This November, four out of nine members of the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board are up for reelection. Service on this important board is unpaid, and while some former members have gone on to other elected offices, the job is not widely seen as a stepping stone to a political career. Most successful candidates come to the hospital board from backgrounds in business, finance or medicine, and most of the decisions they will make involve impressively large amounts of money. So experience is a plus, although we have seen relative beginners negotiate the necessary learning curve, thanks to this board’s long tradition of stability and collegiality.
Sarasota Memorial, as our region’s largest health care facility and our only remaining not-for-profit hospital, has played a dominant part in the response to the the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 900 patients with the virus have received treatment in the past nine months, and it would be impossible to overstate the costs of their care, in terms of actual expense and also the burden imposed on hospital staffers. As Sarasota Memorial’s physicians and administrators reacted urgently to a host of unknowns, they shared what they learned with the community, and took the lead in devising and encouraging appropriate public safety measures.
Everyone now on the board should be commended for directing and supporting the system’s employees through a stressful and demanding time that is not yet over.
So leadership through the pandemic is a key consideration when casting your vote for these four positions. And so is the ability to balance crisis management with the ongoing, mandatory mission to function as this region’s health care safety net – tending and healing our residents regardless of ability to pay. This includes not only the medical interventions that are reliably covered by Medicare, but also services trickier to plan for, such as trauma care, obstetrics, pediatrics, neonatal intensive care and behavioral health care.
Overlying these core duties is the imperative to design our health care system of the future: not only the Jellison Cancer Institute, which will give patients local access to the best treatments and therapies, but also the new campus in Venice and the need to attract and retain high-quality health care professionals.
We encourage you to watch an online forum with hospital board candidates conducted by the League of Women Voters Sarasota County, accessible at Vote411.org, where you can also read their written responses to League questions.
The time you invest in this research could easily turn out to be worthwhile – if you or someone you love has to go to the hospital.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board