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A New Hospital For Flagler? Credibility Gap Yawns Between Commissioner Joe Mullins’s Pledges and County Administration’s Caution

| July 2, 2019

First-year County Commissioner Joe Mullins is self-branding his 'Focused on Flagler' approach, as in this image from his social media platforms. But the approach is keeping a broader picture somewhat out of focus.

First-year County Commissioner Joe Mullins is self-branding his ‘Focused on Flagler’ approach, as in this image from his social media platforms. But the approach is keeping a broader picture somewhat out of focus.

Reading County Commissioner Joe Mullins’s Facebook page and speaking with him, you’d think Flagler is about to get a new hospital focused on mental health and, not long after that, adding a maternity ward. 

“We’re having some very successful negotiations and we’re real close. That’s as much as I can say without messing up the NDA,” Mullins said, referring to a non-disclosure agreement. “It’s going to be on U.S. 1, and it is a for-profit hospital.” It would start out small, as an urgent-care type facility, “then it will be a larger hospital, a full blown hospital with quite a few jobs, several hundreds, and focus on those services that we’re missing, mental health and labor and delivery and urgent care.” 


He was adamant: “This is a project that’s going to happen.” 

Not so fast, says Cameron. “The medical thing is pre-embryonic. We’re on a first date. There’s no embryo.”  

Economic Development Director Helga van Eckert echoed his caution. She’d spoken to the economic development board, describing it as “Project Alice,” in the usual way of veiling possibilities in hokey names. “This is again a multi-million dollar project that could be a game-changer for us, so we’ll see where that one goes,” she said. But nothing beyond conversations. 

And weeks before, in May, “a multi-million dollar health and wellness project that we’ve been working on for about nine months now” went south: that company had been looking at 80 locations, Flagler had made the shortlist of the last three, then was cut out. Not enough people locally to justify it, van Eckert said. And that, after almost a year’s work. 

Mullins’s at times manic energy and clearly Trump-inspired flair for hyperbole is unnerving some of his colleagues even as he seems to thrive on the exposure–and on keeping his critics off stride with an in-your-face, new-sheriff-in-town brashness. He describes himself as a work in progress and acknowledges getting ahead of himself. But he’s not paying the price. The county is. The stories told by Mullins’s hyper-optimism and the county administration’s more cautious and deliberate approach illustrate a recurring gulf between the politician’s wishes and promises and what the government administration is in fact delivering (or not). And it places the administration in the position of having to qualify if not walk back much of what Mullins projects on his social media page while doing damage control, as with contentions that another hospital could be competing with AdventHealth in the county. 

“That’s strictly Joe, that’s not us,” Cameron said. “The only discussions I’ve had with AdventHealth is what services they had and what they didn’t have.” But there’s not been much regarding a different health care facility, let alone a new hospital. “This discussion is just way premature. It really is,” Cameron said. “This is effectively the result of discussions on some phone calls. We have had Helga look into the possibilities of what incentives would be available, you don’t even know if it’s a private or a non-profit you’d be dealing with, so the incentive packages vary. These are things we do all the time, we reach out to all kinds of industries to see if they’d be interested in future discussions. We automatically go into an NDA. The vast majority of those discussions never pan out.” 

Cameron continued: “We are working toward the industrial side of it, and hopefully we do have some announcements on that in the near future. The medical side would be further off.” The “industrial side of it” consist of a planned 250,000 square foot light manufacturing building that would assemble and distribute furniture on U.S. 1. Van Eckert put a package worth some $680,000 in county subsidies for the company (reimbursing all or part of the company’s county taxes over 10 years). That project was first reported here last week, revealing the size of the subsidy. 

Van Eckert defended the subsidy, saying the land the company is looking to buy is currently generating only $45 in county taxes and $25 in school taxes. Van Eckert would not disclose where the parcel is located. The only parcel currently for sale along U.S. 1, that was billed those amounts in taxes last year, is a 19-acre tract at the south end of the county owned by a group called “Ajb of Flagler County LLC,” one of whose principals is Bruce Page, president of Intracoastal Bank. The property is brokered by Margaret Sheehan-Jones of Parkside Realty, a regular at Van Eckert’s economic development board meetings and the broker associated with several land deals with the county, some of them controversial, one of them–the catastrophic Sears building sale earlier this year–resulting in the county’s intent to sue Sheehan-Jones, among others. 

That project was among those touted by Mullins on social media and in interviews, though his focus remained on a health care facility, as his spate of posts and even more comments under his own posts indicated: “High paying jobs and combat opioid epidemic!” “lots of big things about to occur.” “We will see a very much needed medical industry in district 4 on Us-1.” “I promised to bring jobs! And that’s now happening.”

From Tallahassee he recorded a video  promising “we’re about to see some major, major industry come to Flagler County.” He then repeated in a subsequent post: “HIGH paying medical jobs and work force housing. Flagler County! Mental health and labor and delivery.” And again mere hours later: “ High Paying medical and industrial jobs on the west side.” “Not currently in county, Coming to US-1 (my district 4) and much needed services for mental health and more. With lots of jobs! May even celebrate our first Flagler county hospital birth!”

Mullins had called Cameron before putting up anything on Facebook relating to the health care facility. Cameron cautioned him. “The most you can say, Joe, is we are looking for a way to fill these service gaps, we’re talking to various people, you can’t say anything beyond that,” the administrator said he told him. “But it sounds like he did.” 

In a pair of interviews just before and after the posts went up, Mullins went into more details. “Focus on labor and delivery, mental health and other general services, and it’ll be on US 1, and it’ll bring in several hundred jobs,” Mullins said, echoing his Facebook posts. “I’ve been working on it for a couple of months but we confirmed it last night, me and Jerry did,” he said, referring to Jerry Cameron. “It’s coming, it’s official, more news to come.” 

This would be an actual hospital, though Mullins wasn’t sure how many beds it would have, nor the time-frame, acknowledging that it’s early in the process. “I haven’t got anything on paper yet,” he said. “It’s strong enough for me to start being able putting it out there.” Still, he said, he wanted to be “careful with Advent,” meaning AdventHealth, the actual hospital in Palm Coast: he didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers, but at the same time he said it was time to move in broader directions, especially with mental health and maternity. “I think competition brings out the best in everybody, and I think Flagler County has got to have a balance, we’ve gone way too long without mental health and labor and delivery,” Mullins said. 

In late 2017 Rom Jimenez, AdventHealth’s CEO (and a member of the county’s economic development board) directly addressed the recurring question about a maternity ward at the hospital: while that was projected for the future, present demographics driven by an older population meant that a maternity ward was “not really on our radar any time soon.” 

Pressed on the sort of health care company Mullins was referring to, he said he was under a gag order, but said the company already operates in Florida, and made a connection with his brother, who’s in health care, and HCA, the company formerly headed by Rick Scott before he became governor. “We’re going to shoot for a full-blown facility,” Mullins said. 

“Joe’s perennial optimism may have gotten in front of him,” Cameron said. “I know this is a big goal of his, and I just can’t give the impression from the administration side that any of this stuff is inevitable.” 

 

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21 Responses for “A New Hospital For Flagler? Credibility Gap Yawns Between Commissioner Joe Mullins’s Pledges and County Administration’s Caution”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    No. Just No..

    I cringe everytime our BOCC and County Administrator get involved in a Real Estate or Busniess adventure. And now we have a Commisioner who has an “inside” with a Company? This stinks already.

    I don’t trust our BOCC or County Administrator anymore with our money. They go thru our financial resources like it’s an endless wallet.

    Yes we need these resources but not by this BOCC and not by one who has a family member “inside”.

    Advent Health is supposed to be our main provider. Let them expand without using OUR money.

  2. FPC Granny says:

    Another hospital?? This is GREAT news!! New jobs? Competition for the poor care that is received at Advent Health which uses “all” outside agency doctors for their ER staff….if any one of the so-called ER doc’s walks into your area while you’re in the ER you are charged for 3 outside agency ER doc’s!! And all they did was say hello! Having a “new” hospital will bring Advent Health’s standards up to compete with the competition.

  3. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Poor Jerry Cameron….
    All we need is for Advent Health to provide a trauma center and maternity facilities. We don’t need a second hospital. We just need our current one to be more responsive. We are only 110,000+ people we are not New York City , Los Angeles or Chicago where multiple hospitals are located.
    Where would our emergency responders take people to? which hospital?
    We could use a university; medical scientific labs, an airport which can accommodate commercial flights and generate tons of money instead of these scary pilot schools….Joe has to slow down, get off Facebook and first concentrate on his district 4 first and foremost.

    Not one promise has come to fruition; secret negotiations are violations of the sunshine law yet which Joe refuses to confront but he is a very affable guy which makes it a little hard to want to wring his neck and shut his big over zealous mouth.

  4. Dave says:

    This man sounds like he is taking a page straight from the Trump playbook ,not to mention his hat causes division in our community and symbolizes hate.

  5. Trapper John MD says:

    Keep in mind Advent plans on putting an emergency room and Dr’s offices by I95, Old kings and Matanzas wood pkwy. However they had already purchased the parcel below about a year and a half ago. Just in case the link doesn’t work, its close to the corner of US-1 and Matanzas woods pkwy. Big, big plans for that area.

    https://qpublic.schneidercorp.com/Application.aspx?AppID=598&LayerID=9801&PageTypeID=4&PageID=4330&KeyValue=28-10-30-4285-00000-0060

  6. Rob Jr. says:

    Red hat white letters.

    All he is missing are some tiki torch bearers.

  7. MRC says:

    One may criticize Joe Mullins for getting ahead of himself, he does promote badly needed programs, facilities, jobs, and other services which are essential for a vibrant growing community. He does promote growth, but needs to slow down and get more involved in the actual tedious process of planning, recruitment, and implementation of needed programs. And yes, we do seriously need a better hospital in Flagler County! The services provided are seriously lacking, we have a lack of qualified and quality physicians in our community, even though the powers that be are erroneously touting quality services. As a growing county we DO need to move forward rather than retain the status quo. Maybe we do need someone like Joe Mullins pushing the envelope. But perhaps he needs to temper his approach and focus on research, planning, and implementation also.

  8. Veteran says:

    Need VA hospital in Flagler

  9. Oliver Hardy says:

    Jane Gentile-Youd It’s quite simple actually. Medics are given protocols about which hospital to transport to depending upon the services offered at the hospital. That’s why trauma alerts aren’t transported to Advent Health in Flagler but to other facilities (i.e. trauma centers). If a hospital doesn’t have the facilities to care for a heart attack they aren’t transported there. Same for strokes, etc. An airport? That’s funny. Like you said we’re not big enough.

  10. Percy's mother says:

    News flash.

    There are very few “well-paying” medical jobs in the medical industry these days. The medical industry was decimated by Obamacare 10 years ago. Now hospitals and medical doctors are struggling to survive reimbursement cuts just to stay open. A good majority of medical doctors have sold their practices and now work under the hospital umbrella as hospital employees. In fact, a lot of medical doctors I know are doing their own office work to save money.

    Also, ask any employee of AdventHealth, Halifax or Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine and you’ll find out what’s going on. Many hospital departments have, or are in the process of being, outsourced and so the jobs in hospitals aren’t there any more because some type of outside company is hiring its own employees (sometimes remote) to do the hospital work and that way the hospital saves money in employee benefits, training and turnover. That’s not the fault of the hospitals. It’s because Obamacare decimated the industry.

    If you’re one of the highly skilled in the medical realm (2-year RN, BSN, MSN, ARNP, cardiovascular tech, MRI tech, CT tech) then you will get paid well. Other than that pay in the medical industry is ABYSMAL. . . $9, $10-$12/hour and maybe $15 an hour for the rest, and these days that’s not a living wage. Even coding is either being outsourced or is in the process of going the way of the dinosaur too.

    Also, a private hospital isn’t going to take any patient who doesn’t have excellent health insurance, and once the insurance reimbursement is exhausted, the patient will be booted out of that particular facility.

    Once again, we have people in our Flagler County government (van Eckert) making plans and decisions when they know NOTHING about the business sector and plans they’re working on behind closed doors.

    Again, there are very few “high paying” medical jobs these days. That’s a thing of the past like the dinosaurs.

    So what’s van Eckert getting paid for when she knows nothing about what’s going on in the real world?

  11. DIVA64 says:

    Have to agree with the Granny .
    There is an old saying you get what you pay for
    Well when you go to the ER and are not examined and the ER doc stands back near the door speaking to you maybe 60 sec. You don’t feel like you got any treatment so why would you want to pay them anything.
    When they mis diagnose you and it results in conditions that dont get taken care of and result in life long illness that could have been prevented if they would have truly listen and examined the patient who wants to pay for that care more like you want them to pay and pay big time.

  12. Richard says:

    This IS a joke, correct?

  13. Trailer Bob says:

    An Airport in Flagler? Funny. We have on a half hour away, its called Daytona International.

  14. Dave says:

    Percy’s mother are you saying doctors need to make tons of money to do a good job? That they dont care about people only money?

  15. JF says:

    Ok so you want to have a mental health facility at this possible hospital. It would s a for profit hospital and do you honestly think that the mentally ill have insurance? WHAT A FREAKING JOKE THIS IS! so basically only those who are insured will be able to get treatment! WOW THATS ALL I CAN SAY.

  16. atilla says:

    I would support a new hospital. The existing one I wouldn’t take my dog to. They can change the name or like a local supermarket remodel and paint and expect better results.I’ve gone to both of them and nothing has changed. The same people work there. People is what makes a business successful not a paint job or a name change. Like they say, you can put a new dress on an ugly lady but she’s still ugly.

  17. mark101 says:

    “”Also, a private hospital isn’t going to take any patient who doesn’t have excellent health insurance, and once the insurance reimbursement is exhausted, the patient will be booted out of that particular facility.”” so very true not to mentioned you will be hounded forever with court documents for payment. ……. I don’t trust any of these county commissioners these days. .

  18. A Dedicated American says:

    Joe to bad you do not have a mind of your own. President Trump wears the hat well, you do not, We need another hospital in this county shows your manic behavior. You promised in your campaign you were going to bring HIGH paying jobs to this county. You describe yourself as work in progress and you acknowledge getting ahead of yourself. You certainly are not paying the price the tax payers are paying in this county. Do some research. You and Obrien should do some research on why GOOD doctors are leaving the medical profession. Before you go and make decisions I would think you and the other four commissioners would check with the CEO of Flagler Hospital and ask him why so many sick people would rather go to the Advent hospital in Ormond. With the health care system the way it is, thanks to Obama, the working class people in this county need HIGHER PAYING JOBS not a new hospital. And more money to be able to pay for their health care. What you promised. You are in a county where residents barely make $50,000. dollars a year. They are not making $100,000. to $200,000. dollars a year that some of your people in the county building are making. And they certainly would love to have your bank account. You are for low income housing and fiber optic. How is that going to bring in higher paying jobs, You and the other four commissioners leave a lot to be desired. You all think you have the expertise to make decisions. You all should be voted out when the next election comes. The people that blog on this site should be at the next Board Of County Commission meeting on July 15 .

  19. Rowboat says:

    What’s wrong with just having small town America when you’re $200 million in debt?!!

  20. Concerned says:

    I have just been informed that our E/R in Palm Coast does not take Aetna, that it will be out off network expanse . What I am to do drive all the way to St Augustine in an Emergency. What if I had to have a ambulance and it could only take me to Advent. This is not could enough

  21. Denali 94 says:

    Percy’s Mother – If you would be so kind, please explain exactly how the ACA ‘decimated’ the healthcare industry. The trend of doctors becoming ‘hospital employees’ started in the early 2000’s, long before the AC was ever brought to Congress. Yes, the move was based on insurance issues;but it was a liability issue and not medical. I have looked pretty carefully at the ACA and cannot find where the act did anything to effect the actual cost of healthcare or set limits on what a doctor could charge for their services. To me, the use of the term “affordable care” was extremely misleading as the act did nothing to reduce the cost of healthcare.

    So if you would, please enlighten ne – thanks!

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