Wilson Mediates Dispute between Jessie Trice & FIU Over Clinic in Liberty City
Story by José Pérez
A public health clinic currently under construction in Liberty City is at the heart of a struggle between one of South Florida’s oldest and most recognized community care clinics and Miami-Dade County’s public university. Both Jessie Trice Community Health Center and Florida International University say that they each were promised use of the Liberty City Health Center and, less than a year before its scheduled opening in Spring of 2014, Congressperson Federica Wilson (D-FL) held a meeting in her Miami Gardens office this week to resolve the matter.
The impetus on the part of Wilson to facilitate the meeting, which included high-ranking representatives from Jessie Trice, FIU, the Florida Department of Health, the Health Foundation of South Florida, and the Model City CAC, was simple and urgent. “We need to move forward with building the Liberty City Health Clinic,” said Wilson, to help the underserved and boost the economy.
At issue is who will control use of the Liberty City Health Center when it opens next year.
FIU said that it was told that it would be able to use the facility as part of teaching program it developed for its students. Jessie Trice says that they were promised the continued use of a site they’ve served for over forty years by a resolution passed by the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners two years ago.
Wilson, who originally worked with local officials on the project when she was a State Senator, said that the idea all along had been that the Liberty City Health Clinic would be run by Jessie Trice. “It’s my understanding that Jessie Trice will head the clinic.”
Dr. Deborah George, Chief Medical Officer for Jessie Trice, said “I can’t imagine any reason why Jessie Trice would not be the clinical provider for Liberty City.”
Jessie Trice has a long history of service at the site in question. From 1972 until the mid-2000’s, Jessie Trice operated out of the old Scott Center which sat adjacent to the present site for the Liberty City Health Center.
Lillian Rivera, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, said the Health Department obtained the land from Miami-Dade County via County Commissioner Jean Monestime. Rivera, who is in charge of supervising public health programs in Miami-Dade, said that the 10,000 square foot facility is already being built on county-owned lots just south of the Northside Metrorail Station in North Liberty City. According to Rivera, there are two more parcels available that will be used for expansion of the site as funds become available.
Stephen Sauls, Vice President, Office of Government Relations for FIU, was beginning to describe the history of FIU’s involvement with the project – including contacts with legislators in Tallahassee including State Senator Anitere Flores -when Rivera interrupted him to declare that “there was no intention to exclude Jessie Trice.”
Rivera repeatedly insisted that Jessie Trice was not supposed to be excluded, adding that the medical education component was at the heart of reaching out to FIU. “I thought that bringing FIU was a good thing for the community,” said Rivera who supports the idea of extending the classroom into the community. “The key is to test this model of training new physicians.”
Wilson questioned Rivera’s judgment in that instance. Describing the decision to bring FIU into the discussion for the future of the Liberty City Health Center as “not a smart decision,” Wilson was not pleased. “I don’t appreciate it.”
Sauls talked about the university’s intentions. “Our focus has been to provide additional health care,” he said, via FIU’s NeighborhoodHELP program which is “a program that is ready to be replicated.”
Wilson asked Dr. Joe Greer, Assistant Academic Dean of Academic Affairs for FIU and the man charged with the leadership of the NeighborhoodHELP program, if FIU was willing to work with Jessie Trice. Greer avoided giving the Congressperson a direct answer but did say that FIU works with “over 100 community partners” as part of its work with “household-centered care.”
“We work with anybody.”
Greer returned to the theme introduced by Sauls as to why FIU is interested in the Liberty City Health Clinic. “To make [NeighborhoodHELP] successful, this has to be tied into a clinic.”
Sauls indicated that success in Liberty City could bode well for FIU in the future hence the strong desire to “show that it’s a model that works so it can be replicated in other places.”
The question of who had preference for control of the health clinic still hung over the meeting. For example, Sauls stated that the “site was offered to us” but did not specify by whom.
For Wilson, the resolution by the Miami-Dade County Commission saying that clinic would be operated by Jessie Trice added credence to what she said was “the original plan”: to provide the health center for Jessie Trice.
“As far as I’m concerned, it belongs to Jessie Trice,” said Wilson who also said that “If FIU wants to work with Jessie Trice, fine [but] it has to be Jessie Trice leading.”
Sauls said he had “never heard of the resolution” which prompted Annie Neasman, CEO of Jessie Trice, and George to hold up copies of the resolution they brought with them to the crowded meeting.
Wilson announced the formation of a task force to resolve the issue as soon as possible. “We’ll determine how we’ll operate the clinic and who does what,” she said. Once the task force met, an official and perhaps conciliatory ground-breaking is to be scheduled for the site. Still, the message from the Congressperson was very clear to all present: “We cannot and will not allow Jessie Trice to be left out.”
The taskforce meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 21 at noon at FIU.
*To read the published version of this article as printed in the South Florida Times, please click on this urlink.