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Council won't waive hospice bill, for now

The hospice where Terri Schiavo spent her final days owes the city thousands. But officials may be willing to help.

Published April 17, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Council members declined to waive any money hospice owes the city for police protection while Terri Schiavo was a patient, but left the door open in case hospice needs help.

"It's not a dead issue," Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said during Tuesday's council workshop. "If they come up and say this is all we can afford, we'll look at it."

As of April 7, Hospice House Woodside owed Pinellas Park about $98,000 in overtime pay for four officers to remain on the premises around the clock. That figure is likely to grow. The hospice has asked that the city supply one officer at least through this weekend. The cost for a police officer to remain there for 24 hours is about $1,000. Pinellas Park charges $39 an hour for an off-duty police officer. That money pays the officer's overtime and related expenses. The city makes no profit, police Capt. Mike Haworth said.

Although a majority of the City Council appeared willing to reduce the charges, should hospice ask, it is unclear whether that will happen.

Mike Bell, hospice vice president of development and community relations, said the organization has not gotten a handle on the total costs for Terri Schiavo's care. That could come at the end of this month, he said. At that point, hospice may look to others for help.

"I don't think we've ruled anything out at this point," Bell said Wednesday. "Sitting here today, we have no plan to call the city or anyone else."

This is not the first time Pinellas Park has supplied officers to hospice because of Terri Schiavo. The first time, in 2000, hospice paid $18,000 for police protection. The second time, in 2003, hospice paid $129,000.

This time, the bill could be higher. And the expenses were not limited to hospice, which asked only for four officers.

Both the city and Pinellas County provided personnel. The Pinellas County sheriff had $34,523 in overtime costs alone. Pinellas Park police had $33,190 in overtime that was not billed to hospice.

That figure does not include the nonovertime cost of police who were diverted from other tasks while they remained at hospice.

Nor does that figure include costs for the city's public works staff, which erected the orange barriers that kept the protesters and media from blocking the streets and sidewalks. Public works employees also came by daily to pick up trash and litter that was dropped along the street.

Those figures have not been totaled.

Pinellas Park council member Ed Taylor, who broached the topic of having the city absorb the hospice debt, referred to the "tremendous job" the police performed.

"We became an international battleground of opinion. Our police operations people had a job to protect the hospice patients, the families, the protesters, the (hospice) employees," Taylor said. "We were virtually under siege out there for two weeks."

Then he reminded the other council members what a "wonderful" service hospice provides. Pinellas Park money that goes to hospice goes to help Pinellas Park residents, he said.

The fees that hospice will pay to the city, he said, could come out of their patient care.

"I was just looking to see where everybody's heart was at," Taylor said. It was "a very expensive venture. They didn't ask for (the protesters) and neither did we."

Council member Sandy Bradbury supported the idea.

"I think that we should do some kind of shared costs," Bradbury said. "I don't think that we should ask our citizens to take the bill 100 percent."

Council member Rick Butler was hesitant. Hospice has not asked for help, he said, and the money could be earmarked for a mobile command center.

"This money would go a long way toward paying for this. I'm not beyond naming it "hospice' if they want it to be named," Butler said. "At this time, I do not favor waiving those fees at all."

[Last modified April 17, 2005, 00:25:16]

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