History & Overview of Lee Health’s Governance
About Lee Health
Lee Health is proud to have served the communities we call home for 107 years. The health system has grown from a single downtown hospital that opened in 1916 to the integrated health system it is today, expanding to meet the growth and needs of Lee County and beyond.
Lee Health provides essential healthcare services to ensure patients get the right care, at the right time and in the right place through a network of hospitals, physician practices and other community-based services.
At the heart of Lee Health is our safety-net mission -- the commitment to treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay. In 2022, Lee Health provided more than $80 million in Charity Care and had an overall Community Benefit of $165 million. Lee Health receives no direct tax support for its operations.
In its first 50 years of operation, Lee Health was a private nonprofit health system. In 1968, Lee Health began operating as an independent special healthcare district created by the Florida Legislature and governed by an elected Board of Directors. This governance status has served the health system and the community well over the years.
Today’s Financial Realities
Today, times have changed. Hospitals and health systems across the country are facing historic financial challenges. As expenses grow faster than revenue, many health systems are operating at a loss. While Lee Health has managed a gain from operations most years and has reinvested those funds back into services for our community, we also feel the squeeze of rising costs, increasing competition and declining reimbursement.
Impact of the Repeal of Certificate of Need
Additionally, Florida repealed significant portions of its long-standing Certificate of Need (CON) program in 2019. The repeal made it easier for most health systems to expand their services. Subsequently, 65 new hospitals were announced to be built in Florida between 2020 and 2022. Lee Health has been largely excluded from this expansion because its enabling legislation places certain limitations on the health system’s specified geographic region (Lee County and as defined in the Enabling Act).
Lee Health’s Commitment to the Community
The healthcare environment is rapidly changing, and we must adapt and grow to continue our mission in our community. This means reacting to external changes and proactively shaping our future. As leaders and stewards of Lee Health, we must do all we can to evaluate the best way to keep our health system local, strong and focused on delivering exceptional care to the people of Southwest Florida.
One such consideration is to evaluate whether a change in our legal structure would be best for the residents of Lee County. Recent legislative changes allow the Lee Health Board of Directors to evaluate the potential benefits of converting from a public entity to a private nonprofit entity.
Significant work must be done to consider and weigh all implications of returning to a private nonprofit status. We must conduct appropriate due diligence to gather the facts and analyze the impacts of such a decision.
If, after evaluation, the Board determines the interests of residents of Lee County are best served by changing back to a private nonprofit entity, the enabling act authorizes the Board to attempt to negotiate and draft a proposed agreement with the Lee County Commission setting out the terms of conversion, with a focus on maintaining our safety-net mission in perpetuity.