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Key West hospital’s 30-year lease is valid, attorneys say

Lower Keys Medical Center, a for-profit hospital in Key West, continues to be scrutinized by the hospital district with which it has a 30-year lease for the property.
Lower Keys Medical Center, a for-profit hospital in Key West, continues to be scrutinized by the hospital district with which it has a 30-year lease for the property. Keynoter

The corporation behind Lower Florida Keys Medical Center in Key West has a valid lease for the next 13 years and can’t be forced out without the Lower Keys Hospital District exposing itself to financial risk, an outside law firm says.

Also, the Hospital District’s board cannot take over any operations at the for-profit hospital without some mutual agreement between it and corporate giant Community Health Systems, which runs the 167-bed center at 5900 College Road.

“It is our opinion that there is no legal basis to invalidate the lease or to require [Community Health Systems] to cede any operational control of the hospital to the district,” according to the opinion by Holland and Knight in Miami.

Attorney Maria Currier, a partner at the firm, delivered a 10-page legal opinion to the Hospital District Board on Monday, about two months after the board agreed to spend $25,000 to acquire an outside law firm’s take on the issue.

The issue appeared after a local movement began questioning LKMC’s billing practices and level of patient care and collecting complaints about the hospital.

Holland and Knight were asked to answer in detail five questions by the board, starting with whether the board members who in 1999 struck a 30-year lease with the hospital’s then-owners HMA, were legally bound to delegate operations, such as granting physician privileges and setting prices to the company.

Yes, they were, the lawyers said.

The final question from the hospital district board was, “If the district is unable to exert influence over some or all of the hospital operating decisions,” can the board terminate the lease without financial risk?

No, the lawyers said.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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