Parrish Medical Center says it likes the idea of financially helping the community, if it receives federal CARES Act funding to help pay for its coronavirus-related expenses.

Brevard County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober received a positive response from Parrish, in reaction to his suggestion that the health care provider consider financially supporting a county-owned park in Titusville, if Parrish gets a county allocation from the CARES Act.

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That reaction contrasted with the response Lober recently received from Health First related to funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The details of Lober’s requests to the two health care providers, though, were quite different.

Parrish recently detailed to the county expenses totaling about $5 million related to the coronavirus pandemic — expenses that potentially are reimbursable through the $105.03 million CARES Act allocation Brevard County received from the federal government for use in the county.

Lober suggested to Parrish that it consider providing matching funds equal to 20% of what it receives from the county through the CARES Act “to improve public areas near Parrish’s existing facilities.”

“Recognizing that Parrish is based in Titusville, it is only reasonable to ask that the match go toward a worthy public cause in that historic city,” Lober said in an email Thursday to Edwin Loftin, senior vice president of integrated and acute care services and chief nursing officer at Parrish. “Blanton Park is a (county)-owned public park located in an economically depressed area, just south of Parrish’s headquarters. It is immediately adjacent to a Salvation Army soup kitchen. Parrish providing a 20% match of any CARES Act funding allocated would provide an immense benefit to the entire local community.”

Lober said his proposal “presents an opportunity for Parrish to go above and beyond to shine as an example of best-practice community giving.”

In response, Loftin on Friday wrote Lober that his proposal “presents us with a welcomed opportunity to continue to extend the reach of our not-for-profit mission, vision and values.”

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Loftin said Parrish, along with County Commission Vice Chair Rita Pritchett, whose district includes the Titusville area, “and other community stakeholders, look forward to providing leadership and direction in assuring those matched funds fulfill the public’s interests. We appreciate the support and working with the county.”

Lober then told Loftin that he had no problem with Pritchett working with Parrish “on the particulars of the 20% local match,” saying “that would be most welcome.”

Lober noted that he did not consult with Pritchett beforehand because they could not discuss the matter privately before a County Commission vote. That would have been a violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.

In a separate statement to FLORIDA TODAY, Natalie Sellers, Parrish’s senior vice president for communications, community and corporate services, said: “We appreciate Commissioner Lober recognizing Parrish Medical Center’s commitment to going above and beyond to serve as an example of best-practice community giving.”

Lober asked county staff to add the item to a County Commission meeting agenda after the county’s consultant reviews Parrish’s expenses to make sure they qualify for reimbursement under the CARES Act. Lober also plans to ask the county attorney’s office how to incorporate the 20% match into the agenda item.

“Thank you for continuing to look out for the community in the many ways you do,” Lober told Loftin.

The cordial exchange between Lober and Loflin was in sharp contrast with email exchange between Lober and Health First over CARES Act funding. Lober had suggested to a Health First representative that the health care company match at least 80% of any money it would receive from a CARES Act grant, with the money earmarked for “the improvement of public areas surrounding their facilities.”

Lober specifically mentioned that the money should include at least $1.25 million for improvements to the county-owned public park adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island, which is near the site of a planned Health First “wellness village” that would include a hospital that would replace its current Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach.

Lober has since withdrawn that request.

Health First saw Lober’s initial request as representing a “quid-pro-quo” for Lober’s vote in support of CARES Act funding to reimburse the health care company for about $8 million in expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email to County Attorney Eden Bentley, Health First Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Nicholas Romanello said Lober should be forced to abstain or recuse himself on all votes related to CARES Act funding to health care companies, as well as on all future votes related to Health First and its subsidiaries.
Lober said he would continue to vote on Health First matters.

Lober said, for him not voting would be illegal, under Florida Statute, unless he had a legally recognized conflict of interest.
A potential CARES Act allocation for Health First has not come before the County Commission for a vote.

Lober said he hopes to see the potential Parrish CARES Act allocation on a County Commission agenda “sooner, rather than later.”

“I support Parrish’s mission, and I will always remember and appreciate Parrish’s willingness to step up and graciously provide expert advice during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lober told Loftin in an email. “Parrish’s selfless actions reflect extraordinarily well on its administrative staff, as well as the fine men and women who serve as clinicians at its facilities.”

Lober in the past has been critical of Health First, contending that its management was hesitant to get involved in Lober’s unsuccessful efforts to implement a county face mask requirement for local businesses.

Article by Dave Berman – Florida Today

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