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Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
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Doctors air concerns as county prepares to take over Pinebrook center

BROOKSVILLE — The last few physicians still operating at Pinebrook Medical Center have appealed to county leaders to give them more time and more funding to move as the county prepares to transform the facility into a new home for county offices.

Four doctors wrote to the commission recently, and several representatives appeared before the County Commission this week to say they needed at least a year to secure and prepare new offices. They also have expressed concern that the move will take more money than commissioners had previously approved.

Dr. M. Rodwan Hiba, a gastroenterologist at Pinebrook who has been in the area for 18 years, addressed commissioners Tuesday, saying a move will be costly, with Medicare payments alone lagging months behind when a new address is listed for a physician. He is also looking at $10,000 or more in costs to re-create the surgery area he has at Pinebrook.

"This may push me out of practice,'' Hiba said, noting that he didn't think he would have to face such a move since his contract with Bayfront Health is good through 2020.

While Bayfront Health has contracts with the doctors, the county has a contract with Bayfront because the county owns the Pinebrook building, on Cortez Boulevard just west of the Suncoast Parkway. For years, the facility had been home to a Veterans Administration medical clinic.

County Commissioner Steve Champion said that he didn't understand why the taxpayers are paying to move doctors when it is Bayfront that signed the long-term leases with them. The county's contract with Bayfront allows the county to terminate the agreement at any time.

Mari Elliott, chief operating officer for Bayfront Health Brooksville, assured commissioners that the hospital was working with the physicians to help with the transition. She noted that one of the doctors who wrote a letter couldn't be at the meeting but was concerned because he had just spent $10,000 to move a nuclear medicine camera there and couldn't afford another move.

Two of the four who wrote to commissioners have found other space, Elliott said, and another is looking.

She explained that, while the hospital is helping the best it can, there are strict federal rules about how much direct financial help it can provide to doctors.

Paul Schillinger, the husband of Karen Wunderlich, another of the physicians affected by the move, told commissioners that all of the doctors were committed to the community and decided not to fight the county over the building but rather work with county officials.

"We want to help,'' he said, but added that the county needs to give the doctors time to find new quarters and consideration for the expense of moving.

As taxpayers, Schillinger said, they understand that Pinebrook is a logical place for county offices, rather than having to build new facilities.

"We'll do what we need to do,'' he said.

He suggested that the county could get started with its move in the portions of the building where medical offices have already been vacated, allowing the remaining doctors to continue to work while they look for suitable places to move.

The county is planning to move several constitutional offices, and possibly some county departments, to the Pinebrook building

Commissioner John Allocco said he appreciates all that the doctors do for the community and would not be opposed to offering them a year to complete their relocation.

"All of this is in the works. There have been no hard decisions made,'' said commission Chairman Wayne Dukes. "We don't have any intents of hurting anyone's practice or putting you in harm's way.''

Deputy County Administrator Jeff Rogers said the county is still negotiating and would bring back a potential agreement to commissioners.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, commissioners approved spending $270,000 out of the county's capital improvement funds to continue moving other offices around at the courthouse and elsewhere. New quarters are in the works for the Municipal Planning Organization staff, the Planning Department and the Office of Management and Budget. Recently, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs moved into the newly opened office of the Hernando County Housing Authority on Jefferson Street, just west of Mildred Avenue in Brooksville.

Officials have said that the moves are designed to give extra space to offices that have been crowded into the Hernando County Government Center and new spaces for the judiciary, which has lobbied for years for more space and courtrooms.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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