By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A former Broward Health executive secretary has filed a whistleblower suit against the hospital district, alleging she was fired after testifying before the grand jury that indicted her boss, President/Chief Executive Officer Beverly Capasso.
Pam Hatfield was among a string of current and former officials at the taxpayer-supported district who testified before the grand jury last September. Three months later, Capasso, then-Broward Health Commission Chairman Rocky Rodriguez, Commissioner Christopher Ure, ex-Commissioner Linda Robison and General Counsel Lynn Barrett were indicted for conspiring to violate Florida’s public meetings law, also known as the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.
Capasso, Rodriguez, Ure and Robison were also charged with two counts of violating the public meetings law. Barrett was also charged alone with one count of solicitation to violate the Sunshine Law. The five await trial.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott’s newest appointee to Broward Heath’s board of commissioners, Ray Berry, turns out to have an undisclosed connection to the governor.
From June 2011 through June 2014, Commissioner Berry’s Cooper City company, Health Business Solutions, employed the Fort Lauderdale-based lobbying firm of Scott’s longtime pal and confidant William Rubin to lobby the executive branch in Tallahassee. Florida lobbyist compensation records show Health Business Solutions paid The Rubin Group between $120,000 and $240,000 during those four years.
Scott appointed Berry to the board on May 11 despite Berry’s strong financial support for Democrats, including Scott’s 2014 opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist. State records show that less than a month before Election Day, Health Business Solutions contributed $25,000 to Charlie Crist for Governor. Berry also personally gave $2,500 to the Florida Democratic Party during Republican Scott’s first campaign in October 2010. Berry and his company gave $1,000 to Alex Sink, Scott’s opponent in the same election cycle. His company gave Scott $250.
In 2012, Berry even gave $1,000 to re-elect Sen. Bill Nelson, who Scott hopes to unseat this November.
Gov. Scott and Broward Health
Scott has a long and tangled relationship with Broward Health. In addition to having the exclusive power to appoint its board members, he was an investor in a private-equity firm that owned 21st Century Oncology, the Fort Myers-based company given a 25-year, no-bid contract by the commission in 2012 to supply radiation oncology services to the district’s patients.
Despite last December’s indictment, Scott chose not to suspend any of the indicted Broward Health officials. Two months before, however, he’d suspended Madison County’s clerk of courts after he was charged with petty theft.
Capasso was serving as interim CEO when the indictment came down. But instead of a suspension, Broward Health’s board voted 4-1 on Jan. 31 to give her the $750,000-a-year job full time. Capasso also stands to collect incentive bonuses that could bring her total take-home pay to $1,125,000.
Capasso’s deal, however, didn’t sit well with Gov. Scott. On April 20, he sent a letter to Broward Health’s board questioning the “appropriateness” of her “significant increase in base pay and bonuses.”
“It is my expectation that any bonus be performance-based and in this case, the measures should include a reduction in the dependence of the district on taxpayer dollars, quality care and patient satisfaction, hospital profitability and patient access to care,” Scott wrote. “As a board member of a hospital district that receives more than $140 million in taxpayer dollars, I urge you to take action to ensure the appropriateness of total compensation and accountability through performance measures.”
At the May 30 regular board meeting, commissioners discussed plans to address the governor’s concerns at a special meeting following the June 27 meeting. (You can view the May meeting at the Dan Lewis Report here.)
Hatfield’s whistleblower complaint was filed in April. Her complaint against the North Broward Hospital District, Broward Health’s legal name, says that when she was wrongfully dismissed on March 16 she was the “longest-tenured of five senior executive secretaries” at the district.
The lawsuit says Hatfield was sought out as a witness by Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly, chief of his office’s Public Corruption/Special Investigations Unit.
“Donnelly initially subpoenaed Hatfield to give a sworn statement in December 2016 and later to appear before the Broward County Grand Jury in September 2017,” the lawsuit says.
Florida Bulldog and later the Sun-Sentinel reported in late September that Hatfield had testified before the grand jury. At one point, Capasso “commented to Hatfield about her having testified,” the lawsuit says.
“She said to Pam something along the lines of, ‘Well, we will all find out what you said sooner or later,’ ” said Hatfield’s Fort Lauderdale attorney William Amlong.
Five weeks after the Dec. 12, 2017 indictment, Hatfield was told that she was being transferred away from Capasso to work for Sandra Todd-Atkinson, chief executive of the district’s Fort Lauderdale hospital, Broward Health Medical Center, at the same title and pay, the complaint says.
On March 16, Hatfield was told that her new position was being eliminated.
According to the complaint, Broward Health “retaliated” against Hatfield because of her testimony. Hatfield is seeking permanent reinstatement, money damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees and costs.
Broward Health has not yet filed a response. The case is assigned to Judge John Bowman.