Mercy Hospital Eliminating Meds-for-the-Poor Program on March 15 Due to HCA Deal

Rick Scott may have moved on, but his ol' employer is the same as ever.

Barely a week after Scott's former company -- the for-profit hospital giant HCA -- signed an agreement to buy Mercy Hospital, the iconic Biscayne Bay infirmary has announced that it's slashing its programs for poor and HIV-positive patients as early as next month.

Although HCA promised earlier this month that "Mercy Hospital will continue to serve as a Catholic acute care hospital," it seems the charitable clinics just don't jive with HCA's bottom line.

A Mercy spokeswoman told Riptide on Thursday that the hospital is eliminating its Freedom Program -- which provides free and cheap meds to the poor and uninsured -- on March 15 and moving its Ryan White HIV-meds-for-the-poor program to the Miami Beach Community Health Center -- a serious downsize -- on March 1.

A source inside Mercy says the timing of the cuts is no coincidence.

"The reason they are losing these programs is because now they are a for-profit hospital," says the source. "They're trying to pretend it's still a Catholic hospital, but it's not."

That could be a problem. James Deering's heirs are believed to have sold the Catholic Church the land for Mercy under the strict stipulation that it remain a Catholic hospital.

"HCA is a for-profit hospital that has stamped its name on every single hospital that it's ever owned," says the source. "Why would it pretend to leave this a 'Catholic' hospital? The reason is that in the deed, when Deering left that land adjacent to Vizcaya it was explicit that this hospital had to remain Catholic. The land was given to the Archdiocese of Miami as long as it was a Catholic hospital. If no longer Catholic, it should return to the Deering estate."

If true, it wouldn't be the first time that HCA has bent the rules in the name of profit. Scott himself was

CEO of Columbia/HCA for 10 years until resigning in 1997 amid an FBI

investigation. That probe ultimately resulted in Columbia/HCA paying a

record $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud.

Although it's unclear whether the agreement between Mercy and HCA will pass muster, what is certain is that Miami's most needy are set to pay the price.

"The people getting the money here are stockholders in HCA," says the Mercy source. "The property will go up in value as soon as they buy it. But the people who will get hurt are the indigent who have been kept alive by these Catholic charities over the years."

Looks like Scott's old company is "getting to work" without him. He'd be proud.

Below is the statement from Mercy Hospital's marketing department:

Mercy Freedom Program:

Due to expected changes in Mercy Hospital's eligibility to participate under federal regulations, the Mercy Hospital Preventative Care program, also known as the Freedom Program will terminate effective March 15, 2011.

Ryan White:

Due to changes in Mercy Hospital status, and the requirement for Ryan White Grant recipients, Mercy Hospital will transition its SIS Program to the Miami Beach Community Health Center, currently a Ryan White Part A provider. This will include the Ryan White, Medicaid PAC Waiver and AICP programs. The consolidation will occur on March 1, 2011, in order to avoid disruption of services during the middle of a Grant Year.

The statement also said Mercy's San Juan Bosco clinic would not be affected by the changes.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.