By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org
Five weeks after hiring a Fort Lauderdale law firm to help it respond to a state review of its contracts, Broward Health’s governing board reversed course Wednesday and fired the firm.
Mitchell Berger and the Berger Singerman law firm were axed in a 4-1 vote that appeared to dance around the true reason for the change: partisan politics.
As the two-time finance chair of the Florida Democratic Party and co-chair of the National Finance Council of the National Democratic Committee for almost three years, Berger is one of Broward County’s best-known Democratic fund raisers. His hiring by Broward Health’s Republican board – all appointed by Gov. Rick Scott – did not go unnoticed in the Governor’s Office in Tallahassee.
Berger was singled out for criticism in a letter from the Inspector General to Gov. Scott that resulted in the suspension of two commissioners on March 18.
“It’s clear I’m becoming an issue,” Berger told commissioners during a 3½ hour meeting during which the words Republican and Democrat were not uttered.
He offered a list of well-connected Republican lawyers as his replacement, including former Florida Senate President Jim Scott of the Fort Lauderdale-based Tripp Scott law firm, former state Republican Chair Al Cardenas and former Miami U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez. Berger didn’t recommend a single Democrat.
Commissioner Joel Gustafson appeared to agree.
“Maybe we need someone politically more favored,” said Gustafson, a long-time Republican activist and former GOP House member.
Fired for being a Democrat?
But no one said flatly that Berger was being fired for being a Democrat, including him.
Both Gustafson and Berger were referring to the board’s intention to send a delegation to Tallahassee to meet with Scott’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel in hopes of reigning in the scope of her “review” of the district’s contracts – an inquiry that expanded recently into a demand for records about executive personnel, reported conflicts of interest and behind-the-scenes lobbying practices.
Berger sought to organize such a meeting but was refused. Instead, Miguel accused Berger Singerman of interfering with her review and recommended that suspensions of former Chairman David Di Pietro and Commissioner Darryl Wright. Gov. Scott suspended both men for “malfeasance” within hours of that recommendation on March 18.
The same day, Berger wrote a letter to Miguel that accused her of being “intent upon destroying the very concept of a community-owned and operated public healthcare system.”
In an interview Wednesday, Berger said the letter wasn’t sent to Miguel because the board hadn’t approved it. The letter was, however, included in reports Berger twice gave to commissioners at meetings this week and last week.
The letter was written amid talk among district insiders of a push by the governor to privatize both of Broward’s public hospital systems – Broward Health and Memorial Healthcare. It doesn’t address that talk, but instead goes after Miguel, whose job is to promote public trust in government and “to assist the Executive Office of the Governor in the accomplishment of its objectives,” according to her office’s most recent annual report.
Wednesday’s meeting also included discouraging financial news about the independent special taxing district.
Chief Financial Officer Arthur Wallace reported that Broward Health’s year-to-date loss from operations is $108.1 million, about $8 million worse than projected. Wallace described an operational loss of $9.1 million in February as $3.1 million better than expected.
Broward Health, while suffering recent credit rating downgrades, reported a year-to-date deficiency of $59.2 million, significantly more than the budgeted amount of $51.3 million.
Expenses exceeded revenue by $4 million in February.
Fuzzy Math / March 31, 2016 7:05 am
Keep in mind the loss reported in the article is before applying tax funds. Of course Broward Health operates in the red given the quality charity care that is provided.
Also before someone from Memorial does, don’t compare Broward Helath to Memorial that has no competitor hospitals in their service area. Broward Health has paying patients cherry picked by Holy Cross, FMC, Northwest, Westside, University, Cleveland Clinic and soon to be Nova.
Maybe you should write about Memorial and maybe you should realize that you Dan and Buddy are pawns in the Govs plan to sell the public hospitals to Ardent. The more you bash us, you make his case.
Concerned / March 31, 2016 10:26 am
Interesting that there is a full blown effort to “reign in” the scope of the IG investigation. Obviously they don’t want the IG to fully uncover what’s been going on there for decades. Privatizing is a good idea. It’s the only to bring an end to crimes that are allowed to be carried out at taxpayers expense. Thanks again Dan Christensen for your dedication and hard work. You make a difference–while everyone else looks the other way.
Awkward Moment / March 31, 2016 10:37 am
Concerned, I suggest you look at the fines paid by Tenet and HCA for Medicare fraud. HCA once paid approximately $750 M. Tenet recently just offered to pay approximately $225 M in Georgia. These monies are still coming out of citizens pockets via income taxes. Both private health systems have been plagued with other fraud schemes including unnecessary open heart surgery. Conversely, Memorial Health System to my knowledge has not committed or been charged with such offenses. So to me, maintaining a public health system but running it honerably seems the best way to go.
Whatever happened to... / March 31, 2016 3:01 pm
What ever happened to the FBI investigation, Federal Grand Jury investigation ? Wasn’t the FDLE brought in as well? What about all the allegations against Brian Bravo, did HR successfully cover up his sexual harassment issues?
It’s like those investigations wet away.
OVER IT / March 31, 2016 4:43 pm
The real snake in the grass is Conmissioner Ure!! He is so pathetic. Did you see his face when asked about hiring a PR firm and he lied and Sun Sentinel was there to state the story was true facts. Between the PR and the Foundation meeting he was overheard telling Fusco who to hire…. Commissioner Canada and Gustufson are the only two who have it right about the board. Not one Commissioner agreed with her about standing by their fellow board members who were suspended for nothing. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
qui tam / March 31, 2016 8:09 pm
Canada is doomed. She’d be smart to get out now before her reputation is flushed down the drain though her departure will remove all barriers for the remaining Dick Scott vipers. Sorry, but Gustufson is a sell out. Aside of the FBI and federal grand jury, where the heck is the federal OIG/DOJ who are responsible for overseeing the CIA that BH is under? So lets surface this: once upon a time there was a cardiologist who was a medical director at BH. Although this employed BH physician ended up not being accused by the DOJ of violating the ant kickback or stark laws, his medical directorship was classified by the DOJ as a “boondoggle” relationship because he thought by going to the gym that he fulfilled the responsibilities of this well paid role intended to ensure patients received quality care. Anyone think the DOJ should have done anything about this?
qui tam / March 31, 2016 8:20 pm
I see Zimmerman kicked LaMarca to the curb. Oh how the dominoes fall.
Awkward Moment / April 2, 2016 9:26 am
Hmmm. Did LaMarca, like El Sanadi, separate himself because of potential findings/implications of a federal investigation? Was he kicked to curb to deflect attention from the real players and their continuing activities? Something is up. Chip surely is no sweet innocent little boy. If he was, he would not have gotten into that nasty foreclosure business while earning over $120k/yr and driving his BMW convertible. He screwed the bank. He’d screw anyone for money.
EMT / April 8, 2016 8:18 am
I can’t wait to hear how Friday goes. I have many friends at Broward Health and they are telling me that Rick Scott is taking their concerns out of context to move his agenda forward. Shame on him. But then again, isn’t this expected from him?
qui tam / April 9, 2016 6:03 pm
I’m highly amused by what a woos Scotty boy really is. Incapable of tolerating face to face confrontation by just one small woman, and unable to even order just one cup of coffee, he has shown the entire US his own character flaws by trying them out in one small woman using a super pac ad campaign. Commissioner Rodriguez, Ure, and Van Hoose, are you equally such little nothing’s?