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Lee Health mulls switch from public to private nonprofit health system

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 29, 2024
Business Affairs
Lee Memorial Hospital (photo courtesy of Lee Health)
To better compete against other healthcare providers, Lee Health, in Florida, is contemplating switching from a public to a private health system model.

With the repeal of the state's Certificate of Need law in 2019, many providers can more easily create, acquire, or expand their facilities and adopt new specialties without having to provide proof as to why their plans are beneficial for the community, resulting in greater competition among Florida hospitals.

Based in Fort Myers, Lee Health is a special district/governmental nonprofit that schedules over two million patient visits annually. Whether or not it becomes a private community-focused organization, the health system says it will retain its nonprofit status as well as its safety net status, ensuring that it can tend to all patients regardless of whether they are insured.

"The healthcare model continues to evolve and the importance right now lies in considering all of our options to determine what will best allow us to maintain our safety net mission and best serve our community," Mary Briggs, spokesperson for Lee Health, told HCB News.

According to news TV station ABC7 WWSB, transitioning offers Lee Health the potential to franchise its hospitals and expand to other locations.

But any changes made will not affect accessibility to its services for patients, or employment, says Briggs. Rather, it is considering all options to see which will allow it to compete with rival health systems in the community and have the resources to do so fairly.

Among public nonprofits, Lee Health is among the few and one of the largest that lacks taxing authority, meaning that it receives no funding from taxpayer dollars. It says this will not change, regardless of its decision.

The provider manages Lee Memorial Hospital, Cape Coral Hospital, Gulf Coast Medical Center, HealthPark Medical Center, Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida, and a rehabilitation hospital, as well as specialty centers. Due to Hurricane Ian in 2022, it was forced to shut down certain locations, it said on its website.

A series of meetings with the public will be held to hear feedback and assess the potential impact any proposed change would have on the community and Lee Health's role in it.

The health system plans to complete the assessment at the end of February.

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