Request for contributors sets off anger at CMHS

Request for contributors sets off anger at CMHS

INVERNESS — Citrus Memorial hospital officials are balking at a public records request that demands the names of people who contributed to a $2 million campaign to build a wellness center at the Allen Ridge medical complex.

Bill Grant, attorney for the Citrus County Hospital Board of Trustees, sent the request in November demanding not only the names of donors but also copies of their checks.

Supporters of the capital campaign responded in anger.

In a January letter to hospital board chairman Michael Smallridge that also was published in the Chronicle, Dr. Michael Bennett urged trustees to rescind the request.

“I see no reason why the CCHB requires such information other than harassment,” Bennett, who said he contributed to the campaign, wrote. “Please enlighten me as to the rationale of the CCHB. It appears to me that this is another perverse sense of need of the CCHB to control anything the foundation attempts, no matter how productive to the community.”

Grant apparently sent the request without informing trustees beforehand.

Smallridge and trustee Debbie Ressler said they didn’t know about the request until they received Bennett’s letter complaining about it.

In an interview, Smallridge refused to say whether he supported Grant’s request for the information or if the trustees need to know the names of donors.

“I’m going to refrain from answering because I don’t want to start a bunch of trouble,” Smallridge said.

The hospital began the campaign in 2006 to raise money for a wellness and education center at the Allen Ridge complex in Lecanto.

The project expanded this past year to include some refurbishing of the building at Allen Ridge and to add a “nurse navigator” program for cancer patients.

The program would not treat patients, but rather act as an agent for patients to schedule treatments and tests, along with providing counseling and education.

Some doctors and donors, however, construed the change as an attempt by Citrus Memorial Health System to steer patients toward its physicians and facilities. Doctors who already believe CMHS is unfairly competing against them saw the wellness center as another competition method.

CMHS has since revised the plans again. Officials removed the nurse navigator portion from the Lecanto project and instead will have that program in operation by April in the medical office complex next to the hospital.

Grant said he made the public records request after hearing complaints from doctors that the project was a competition threat.

He also stood by the request, saying the hospital has no choice but to either comply or cite a legal exemption to the state’s public records law.

“That is reasonable, that is prudent, that is transparent,” he said.

Chris Pool, CMHS director of marketing and philanthropy, said some donors do not want their names identified for practical reasons.

“They don’t want every charity in town reading about it and contacting them,” Pool said.

A plaque on the wall inside the hospital lobby lists names of donors for the Allen Ridge project who don’t mind being identified.

Pool said the plaque includes most of the donors and that only a few want their donation kept confident.

The largest donor, $700,000, was a bequest.

The project’s advisory board requested Smallridge to attend its meeting to explain the necessity of the public records request.

Smallridge said he will bring the matter up at the board of trustees’ Feb. 13 meeting.

“I can understand what (it) is they’re saying,” he said. “I am positive after the Feb. 13 meeting Dr. Bennett will be satisfied.”

Chronicle reporter Mike Wright can be reached at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.