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Source: Broward Health Commissioners to Skip Meeting in Maneuver to Save CEO

Citing "unnamed sources" in the North Broward Hospital District, Commissioner Robert Bernstein has told Juice that two of his colleagues -- Commissioners Joseph Cobo and Mike Fernandez -- will not attend the district's January 27 meeting and that their likely motive is to avoid a vote on Bernstein's motion to terminate Broward Health CEO Frank Nask.

As we reported earlier this week, Bernstein has targeted Nask based on a sense that the CEO was secretive in his dealings with board members, imprudent in his handling of the district budget, and irresponsible in protecting the district from civil penalties that arise from violating federal statutes.

Nask has declined to respond to those allegations. Juice has a pending request to speak to Cobo and Fernandez. We'll update when we hear back.

Bernstein's remarks after the jump.

The governor-appointed board of commissioners is supposed to meet every month -- but it hasn't met since November. Last month's meeting, says Bernstein, was canceled after Cobo and Fernandez informed the district they wouldn't be attending. That no-show was also politically motivated, according to Bernstein.

In an email Wednesday evening, he wrote:

Taxpayers should know that if commissioners did not attend the December

meeting for the purpose of denying the board a quorum that this tactic has already cost Broward Health tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to work around the canceled meeting by having to create temporary privileges for new physicians.

In January, if this alleged tactic is used again, Broward Health could lose substantial amounts of grant monies that need Board approval, in addition to the legal fees incurred again to grant doctors temporary privileges to practice. [See update below]

Juice has contacted the district in hopes of confirming Bernstein's claim about the costs associated with canceled meetings. If he's correct, it would be another Broward Health black eye for Gov. Charlie Crist, who appointed both Cobo -- who is serving despite a criminal corruption investigation -- and Fernandez, who was Crist's fraternity brother at Florida State.

Another Crist appointee, Maureen Jaeger, left the commission last year to join the staff of Sen. George LeMieux. Her seat remains open. And in effect, so is that of Commissioner Rebecca Stoll, who hasn't attended a meeting since July.

The $1 billion public hospital district is one of the nation's largest. In exchange for tax dollars, it accepts the role of caring for the region's uninsured.

It's been a turbulent year for Broward Health, which in May fired its general counsel and associate general counsel in a move that was similarly clouded by political intrigue. The district is currently racking up a big legal bill with the firm Arent Fox, which is conducting an internal investigation into whether the district is violating federal anti-fraud statutes.

But commissioners bringing district business to a halt for political reasons? That would be a new and fairly outrageous low. Says Bernstein:
If these Board members, in a move orchestrated by Mr. Nask, use their absence as a way to avoid discussing Mr. Nask's leadership, I

would argue the use of that tactic by Nask is in itself enough to prove that he lacks the ability to lead Broward Health.

Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Statutes forbid the kind of collaborations Bernstein alleges against Cobo and Fernandez.

Of course, Bernstein's tip to Juice is also politically motivated, a point he acknowledged in his note:
Hopefully, by making the issue public, board members will act in a responsible way and we will be able to have a meeting. If not at least taxpayers will know what is going on.

UPDATE: Broward Health spokesperson Sara Howley told Juice that the district had not yet received any word of Fernandez or Cobo's intention to miss the January 27 meeting. As for Bernstein's claim that the cancellation of the December meeting, and the possibility that January's will also be canceled, cost the district grant money, Howley says that district staff told her otherwise. She says that there were no grants that were large enough to require board approval.

UPDATE II (1/8/10): The district's legal department erred in its original report, when it told Howley there were no costs associated with the cancellation of the December meeting. In fact, that cancellation did cause the district to incur the legal costs that come with issuing temporary staff privileges to doctors who would otherwise have had their privileges approved through board action.

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Thomas Francis

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