The coronavirus pandemic has been a source of political division and controversy across the United States, but few places have experienced this more acutely than a public hospital in Florida. The hospital has been left shaken by the events of the last year, including the loss of top officials, threats of violence against staff, and a hostile local government.
The hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, is a nonprofit, taxpayer-funded institution that serves the poor and uninsured in Pinellas County, Florida. It has long been a pillar of the community, providing critical care to those who cannot afford private healthcare. But in recent months, it has become the center of a bitter political battle that has left staff demoralized and patients concerned.
The trouble began in late 2020, when the hospital’s CEO, Joe Mullany, announced his resignation after just two years on the job. Mullany had been brought in to turn the hospital around, but he was met with resistance from local politicians who felt that he was cutting essential services and neglecting the hospital’s mission. Mullany denies these claims, but the tension between the hospital and the community continued to simmer.
Things came to a head in January, when the hospital’s board of trustees voted to sell the institution to a for-profit company called Orlando Health. The move was met with outrage by many in the community, who saw it as a betrayal of the hospital’s mission to serve the poor. The controversy intensified when the hospital’s medical staff raised concerns about Orlando Health’s track record of prioritizing profits over patients.
In response, local politicians began attacking the hospital in the media, accusing it of mismanagement and incompetence. Some even called for the hospital to be shut down, despite the fact that it is the only provider of care for many of the county’s poorest residents. Staff members began receiving threats of violence and intimidation, and many began to fear for their safety.
Despite the turmoil, the hospital has continued to provide critical care to the community. But staff members say that the political climate has taken a toll on morale, and that they feel unsupported by the government officials who are supposed to be their allies. As one nurse put it, “It’s like we’re on an island, and nobody cares what happens to us.”
For now, the hospital remains in limbo, awaiting a decision from the state government about whether it will be allowed to sell to Orlando Health. But regardless of the outcome, the damage has been done. The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our healthcare system, and nowhere is that more evident than in the struggles of public hospitals like Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.