Manatee Rural Health reforms inch along

dmarsteller@bradenton.comNovember 20, 2010 

MANATEE -- The pace of reform within Manatee County Rural Health Services has slowed, with the agency still searching for new contractors and board members.

The agency’s board heard updates but took no official action on the ongoing reform efforts during its monthly closed-door meeting Wednesday, a spokesman said.

“There isn’t a whole lot to report,” said Tom Nolan, Rural Health’s media liaison.

The not-for-profit agency hired Nolan, a Bradenton political consultant, partly to provide information to the media on the board’s meetings. The agency has declined to open those meetings, citing patient privacy laws.

Rural Health is seeking new lawn maintenance and janitorial services contractors, as well as two new board members, in response to a Bradenton Herald investigation into conflicts of interest at the agency.

The Herald reported that board members steered at least $3 million in contracts over a five-year period to businesses owned by themselves, agency officials and employees, or immediate family members. The Herald also found that Rural Health paid Walter “Mickey” Presha Sr., its chief executive, a salary of more than $433,000 in 2009. Both figures were the highest in Florida, according to a review of tax filings by Rural Health and 27 other agencies that also provide health care to the poor and uninsured. In response, Rural Health has replaced one longtime board member who resigned and expanded its board to 12 seats by adding three independent directors. Two of those new seats remain unfilled.

“They are still talking to people” about the new seats, Nolan said. One must be filled by someone with a financial background, the other by a migrant worker or someone representing the migrant community.

“They’re being very deliberate in what they’re doing to make sure the people they pick are qualified,” he said.

Rural Health also plans to cancel contracts with two employees’ side businesses: A to Z Complete Property Management Inc. and The Lawn Authority of Manatee County Inc. A to Z is owned by Chris Mullinex, the agency’s facilities director, while one of Lawn Authority’s principals is Wardell Jackson, Rural Health’s vice president of support services.

ral Health’s vice president of support services.

The agency invited 15 companies to bid for the lawn maintenance contract and at least eight others for the janitorial contract, Nolan said. Agency officials now are reviewing those proposals and expect to select new contractors by the end of this month, he said.

Rural Health also hired Pete Smith, a non-profit compensation consultant from Virginia, to review salaries and benefits given to Presha and other agency executives. Smith is expected to report his findings at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting, Nolan said.

Also ongoing are reviews of the board’s governance policies and contracts with board members’ companies, he said. The board also previously tweaked its policy to require a two-thirds vote, instead of a simple majority as previously required, to approve any business transaction in which there is a declared conflict of interest.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff Writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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