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Baptist Health Seeks Help From Taxpayers Keeping Middle Keys Hospital Going

The 'field hospital' in the parking lot at Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon is essentially an emergency room, with a few other services.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

There are three hospitals in the Florida Keys — and one of them was critically wounded by Hurricane Irma. Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon has been operating as a field hospital since the storm. Now the hospital’s nonprofit owner is seeking some help from Middle Keys taxpayers to keep it going.

Baptist Health South Florida had just taken over Fishermen’s Hospital two months before Hurricane Irma destroyed the building in Marathon.

Baptist is losing $1 million a month operating Fishermen’s in tents and containers in the parking lot of the old facility, Fishermen's CEO Rick Freeburg told the Monroe County Commission Wednesday.

Freeburg was seeking the county’s help setting up a special taxing district from the Seven Mile Bridge through Conch Key (mile markers 40-63) to help pay for operations while Baptist installs a more advanced modular hospital — and eventually builds a $40 million new facility for Fishermen’s.

The proposed tax would be $50 for every $100,000 of taxable value. So the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 would pay $150. Estimates are it would raise about $1.5 million a year.

Read more: Middle Keys Hospital Faces A Long - And Expensive - Road To Return To Normal

Marathon Mayor Michelle Coldiron said the city supports the idea to help maintain access to critical care nearby.

“We have boating accidents. You could fall off a roof, you could have a heart attack. You could be a little child and have an asthma attack,” she said.

Without a critical care facility, residents and visitors in the Middle Keys are facing a 40-50 mile drive — or an expensive airlift — for help.

She said having a local hospital is important for a community.

“If you lose your hospital, your property values are going to decrease. People aren’t going to want to come here on vacation,” she said. “Families aren’t going to want to move or live here because there isn’t a critical care facility available.”

County commissioners supported the move but can’t approve a special taxing district until next month.

If the commission creates the taxing district, it would have to be renewed annually. Commissioners also suggested putting a referendum question on the August primary ballot. Voters in the district could approve the special taxing district for up to 10 years.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.