By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org
An attorney hired by Broward Health to assist in responding to a state review of the district’s contracts has accused Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general of being “intent upon destroying the very concept of a community-owned and operated public healthcare system.”
The March 18 letter by Special Legal Counsel Mitchell Berger 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.
Berger’s letter to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel doesn’t address the governor’s possible privatization plans. It does, however, question the integrity of 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.
Berger expressed his disappointment with Miguel’s recommendation to the governor that he suspend Broward Health Board Chairman David Di Pietro and Commissioner Darryl Wright for possible interference with her review. The governor suspended the pair within hours, citing “malfeasance.”
The letter recounted how Miguel’s recommendation followed votes by the board, including Di Pietro and Wright, to replace interim CEO Kevin Fusco in the face of criticism from senior managers of a leadership crisis that was “threatening the ability of Broward Health to provide basic services to its patients.” Likewise, the board put Broward Health’s controversial general counsel, Lynn Barrett, on a 30-day performance plan following complaints that patient care was threatened by a backlog in processing various contracts.
The moves to replace Fusco and upbraid Barrett were intended to restore “confidence and trust,” Berger wrote. “These efforts have now undermined by your misdirected recommendation that the leadership of the board of commissioners be suspended.”
Miguel’s office referred reporters to Gov. Scott for comment. Scott’s spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante released this statement, “The Chief Inspector General’s investigation into this matter is ongoing. We will continue to review any relevant materials regarding the investigation.”
Broward Health’s board meets again on Wednesday. It is widely expected that commissioners will move to fire Berger and his Fort Lauderdale firm, Berger Singerman.
Berger Singerman was hired Feb. 24 to help the district’s internal auditor, Vinnette Hall, deal with the Miguel’s review due to criticism of Barrett. While those in the meeting audience that day, including district auditor KPMG, welcomed the move, the law firm’s relationship with Miguel quickly went off the rails.
‘A covert investigation’?
According to Berger, Miguel’s office initially contacted Hall to arrange interviews with Broward Health employees. “But in recent weeks you have circumvented that orderly process and are interviewing Broward Health employees without contacting Ms. Hall, giving the impression that you are conducting a covert investigation rather than a review, in direct contradiction to your assertions.”
Miguel expanded her request for documents beyond contracts to “subjects not limited to the board’s oversight responsibilities” on March 15. At Berger’s urging, the board gave to the OK to have a delegation request a meeting with Miguel to discuss her requests to avoid having to produce “thousands of documents that are likely irrelevant to the scope” of her review.
“You refused to grant us this meeting, and instead sought the suspension of the audit chair (Darryl Wright) and have now accused our firm of interfering with your review,” Berger said.
Berger went on to tell Miguel that Gov. Scott “has no jurisdiction over the operations of the North Broward Hospital District, nor the activities of its managers.” Nevertheless, Miguel has demanded the production of “thousands of contracts, procurement arrangements and other agreements” including the personnel records of Broward Health employees, while failing to provide specifics about what Di Pietro or Wright did that demanded suspension, Berger said.
“Although you have made pointed accusations that members of the board have acted improperly, you would deprive the board of its right to hire counsel to advise it in the face of what has every appearance of being nothing more than an attempt to disrupt Broward Health,” Berger wrote.
“Unfortunately, it is the patients and the public who stand to suffer.”