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Lee Health board candidates weigh in on future of local hospitals

Posted at 6:36 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 16:21:51-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla — All eyes have been on the health care system this year. The pandemic filled hospitals with COVID-19 patients, forcing Lee Health to bring in more nurses and postpone elective surgeries.

All surgeries resumed in May, but board member Sandy Cohen, who’s running for re-election for District 3 says that contributed to Lee Health’s $20 million deficit.

“This year instead of how much money there will be to buy things, it’s what can we do without, because we don’t have any money to buy,” he said.

Candidate Kathy Bridge-Liles who worked as an administrator for Lee Health for 20 years, serving as the chief administrative officer for Golisano Hospital, chimed in. She says she’s aware of the complicated decision regarding elective surgeries, but if it means helping the budget, she would vote to continue them during a COVID-19 spike.

“When you look at all the stars, and they’re aligning correctly, and there would be no negative impact, then yes, I would,” she said.

A few years ago, Cohen along with other board members, voted to double the bed capacity at Gulf Coast Hospital, adding more than 300 beds, which he says came just in time for the pandemic.

“We turned out to have made a good investment. Because without those beds, we’d have people hanging from the chandeliers,” said Cohen.

Candidate David Klein says the healthcare system needs even more beds and potentially more hospitals.

“I think it starts with understanding what’s needed. What’s going to be needed impatient vs outpatient? What does that imply in terms of beds and operating rooms,” he said. “Once you look at that number, you can look at the best placement for them.”

Klein and Cohen agreed areas like North Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres need the additional capacity most. But, directors must come up with a plan before deciding where they would expand first.

Key Dates and Deadlines in Florida

Tues, Nov. 3: In-Person Voting
Fri, Nov. 13: Absentee/Mail-In Delivered By Date