By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
The newest face of Broward Health hangs shoulder pads around his neck instead of a stethoscope.
But like a doctor, he earns six figures a year from the tax-subsidized public health care system.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill recently signed a three-year endorsement deal to represent Broward Health’s orthopedics and sports medicine program. BrowardBulldog.org obtained a copy using Florida’s public records law. Click for a link to the contract.
The move, announced last month, follows criticism from within of Broward Health’s marketing expenses and was made amid a federal anti-kickback investigation. A subpoena issued in that probe named more of Broward Health’s orthopedic surgeons than any other type of doctor.
$100,000 A YEAR AND CLIMBING
Created by the Florida Legislature and legally known as the North Broward Hospital District, Broward Health is largely supported by property tax revenue from county residents who live roughly north of Griffin Road. Last year, the district netted $150 million from property taxes, according to financial reports.
In return, Broward Health’s four hospitals and various clinics treat poor patients who are uninsured or otherwise unable to pay for health care.
Despite this obligation, the district believes spending upwards of $100,000 a year on a professional athlete’s endorsement is a wise investment.
“It just seemed like such a great opportunity for us because we would normally never be able to afford something like this,” said Sara Howley, head of the district’s marketing department. “It just ended up working out really well for us.”
Howley said research by an outside ad agency helped Broward Health’s marketing department determine that the endorsement expense was “a tremendous value” below Tannehill’s market value.
According to his contract, Tannehill will earn $100,000 this year, $110,000 next year and $121,000 in 2015.
The contract, approved in January by Broward Health Chief Executive Frank Nask, will automatically renew unless terminated.
While it’s in effect, Broward Health may use the 24-year-old Fort Lauderdale homeowner’s name and likeness – including his voice, autograph, biography and photos – to promote the district.
Tannehill must make nine personal appearances a year at district events and co-chair the district’s annual fundraising gala with his wife, Lauren. He must also donate at least two items for the gala’s silent auction and buy a table at the event for up to $7,500.
This year’s gala is scheduled for April 6 at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.
Broward County’s only other tax-subsidized hospital district, Memorial Healthcare System, has no plans to follow suit with a paid celebrity endorsement of its own, said spokesperson Kerting Baldwin.
Neither does the public Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County.
“Jackson is the hospital of choice for all of Miami-Dade,” said spokesperson Edwin O’Dell, “and no, we don’t have any plans [to pursue paid endorsements], whether celebrity or not.”
The North Broward Hospital District rebranded itself as Broward Health in 2007. The names of its hospitals followed suit last year, despite objections from doctors and commissioners.
The flagship Broward General Medical Center became Broward Health Medical Center, and the other three hospitals dropped “Medical Center” from their names, to make the facilities sound less like public hospitals for uninsured patients.
Former Broward Health Commissioner Clarence McKee, who voted against the renaming last year, questioned the district’s marketing expenses prior to his January resignation.
At a Sept. 17 tax hearing, McKee brought up the district’s $6.5 million marketing and advertising budget, minutes show. He questioned what Broward Health “gets back from those dollars.”
CEO Nask said, “The marketing is basically to keep us out there in the community,” according to the minutes.
At a December 19 Board of Commissioners meetings, McKee asked Broward Health CFO Robert Martin if he thought the district’s $700,000 in branding expenses proved cost-effective.
“We’re not gaining, but we’re not losing,” Martin said of the number of patients admitted to Broward Health hospitals. “So we’re right in line with where they were last year.”
Martin also pointed out that other hospitals invest in marketing.
“So it’s worth it then?” McKee said.
“I’d say you really don’t know that unless you had a crystal ball,” Martin said. “If you didn’t [advertise], how far would [admissions] be down?”
McKee did not return a voicemail or email to his government relations firm.
At a Feb. 7 press conference, Nask called Tannehill the perfect representative for Broward Health’s orthopedics and sports medicine services because he lives in Broward County and has an interest in orthopedics.
Tannehill purchased his home in Fort Lauderdale’s Portside Yacht Club in August 2012 for $785,000, according to property records.
Before the NFL, Tannehill considered becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He underwent a knee procedure in high school and went on to study biology at Texas A&M University.
Tannehill already knew some of Broward Health’s orthopedic surgeons because they are team doctors for the Miami Dolphins, spokeswoman Howley said.
The Broward Health endorsement is Tannehill’s first since moving to South Florida.
Tannehhill’s endorsement coincides with the ongoing federal inquiry into whistleblower allegations of false Medicare and Medicaid insurance claims submitted by Broward Health.
A May 2011 subpoena from Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanded documents detailing Broward Health’s business dealings with 27 physicians. HHS is conducting the inquiry jointly with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.
Most of the 27 doctors specialize in orthopedics or cardiology, which are two of the most lucrative specialties for hospitals because orthopedic and cardiac procedures generally offer higher insurance reimbursement rates than other types of medical care.
The orthopedic surgeons named in the subpoena include two district doctors who treat the Miami Dolphins, Dominic Carreira and Erol Yoldas, as well as William Burke and John McAuliffe, district doctors affiliated with Broward Health’s orthopedics and sports medicine program.
Those doctors are to have offices in Broward Health’s new 36,000-square-foot Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Center in Fort Lauderdale, expected to open this summer.
Karla Bowsher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.