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PALM BEACH – The Civic Association Healthcare Committee met with Dwight D. Chenette, CEO of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County to learn more about the organization, its responsibilities, and how the agency is using taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Chenette described the six core program areas that the District is responsible for:

1. Trauma Care (2 Trauma Hawk Helicopters) and funding trauma centers at St. Mary’s Hospital & Delray Community Hospital. Treatment was provided to nearly 3,000 severely injured Trauma Alert patients in 2009.

2. Health Coverage for uninsured in Palm Beach County. Approximately 40 thousand residents covered of a total population of 1.3 million in the county.  The Coordinated Care insurance program picks up where Medicaid leaves off, covering up to 150% of poverty ($16 thousand annual income for an individual). There are no deductibles or co-pays with this program.  The Vita Health shared-cost insurance program covers from 150% to 300% of poverty and the District pays for two-thirds of the premiums.

3. School Nurses in 170 Public Schools. 47% of all public school students (total K-12 = 170,000 in the county) who are served by school nurses are on free or reduced-cost lunches.

4. Five Pharmacies for uninsured in Palm Beach County. Over 370,000 prescriptions were paid and filled in 2009.

5. Lakeside Medical Center (public hospital) in Belle Glade opened in October, 2009. The community hospital serves 40,000 residents and has 70 all-private patient rooms and more than 50 physicians and health care providers in a variety of specialties.

6. Long-Term Skilled Nursing Care and Rehabilitation at the Edward J. Healey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center with 198 beds for patients recovering from debilitating illnesses, strokes, and traumatic injuries.  The facility was built in 1917 and is ready to be replaced.

The budget for the District is $260 million.  They have more than 1,000 employees and 1,500 physician relationships.  Details:

• $155 million, or 60%, of the total budget is from property tax receipts.  The millage rate is 1.14 mills with a maximum possible by law of 2.0 mills.

• 40% of the budget is from billing (Medicaid, Medicare, Co-Pays, and Deductibles]

• $26 million is the current budget for Trauma.  $3 million is for medical malpractice insurance.  The budget pays for Trauma Center physician coverage of 350 doctors.

Questions came up about why the Health Care District purchased a building instead of continuing to rent its existing home office.  Mr. Chenette said the current lease of the agency's existing space and parking amounts to about a million dollars a year and the cost of the new 100,000 sq. ft. building totalled $6 million plus $3 million for renovations.  

He said that the District proceeded with this acquisition to reduce operating expenses, lower its annual rental costs and consolidate the agency’s many services into one corporate location. By taking these steps, the District will achieve savings and allow as much taxpayer funding as possible to go toward the programs and services the District provides. 

The purchase also establishes an asset in the community and promotes greater efficiencies by centrally-locating its operation.  The District will continue to rent 17,000 sq. ft. of space to a bank and 20,000 in additional office space to other organizations, offsetting the purchase price.  “Commercial real estate prices are really low now so it made sense to buy now.” he said. “Over the long run, this was a better use of taxpayer dollars rather than continuing to rent for a million a year.”

The District had a $56 million deficit this year because of the economy and lower property taxes, and more people are in need of health coverage because of high unemployment.

One major point that was brought up in the meeting was, overall, in the 13 hospitals in Palm Beach County, there was $608 million in uncompensated care this year.  These are uninsured, and not government covered expenses, that hospitals incur here in the county. It was explained that through direct payments and federal matching funds, the Health Care District provides over $200 million of funding to doctors and hospitals in recognition of uncompensated care levels.

To find out more, link to the Health Care District of Palm Beach County: www.hcdpbc.org