tampabay.com

Hospital's minority contracts are rare

Tampa General hires few black contractors, despite its minority outreach program.

By BILL VARIAN
Published May 27, 2007


TAMPA -- With all the expansion going on at its Davis Islands campus, Tampa General Hospital has awarded $140-million in construction contracts in the past two years.

The total awarded to businesses owned by black people: $4,599.

While Tampa General prides itself in actively seeking to do businesses with minority-owned companies, its own records show dismal results. Black-owned firms, in particular, have reaped few dividends.

The figures are so paltry that Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, newly appointed to the hospital's governing board, wants top hospital officials to explain them. He made the request when the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority met last week and expects a response when the board meets next quarter.

"I don't think the dollars awarded to minority-owned businesses come anywhere close to reflecting the intent of the program," said White, who is African-American. "I want to know if Tampa General is still committed or even interested in this program."

Tampa General officials insist the effort is a top priority for the hospital. They say the problem is finding capable contractors willing to do the work.

"I have worked hard to find minority-owned businesses. Believe me, we have," said former state Sen. Les Miller, who works part time for Tampa General as manager of minority business development and governmental affairs. "There are just not a lot of black-owned firms able to provide those services."

Minorities' share

Tampa General is one of just three hospitals in the state that have a formal minority business enterprise program, said Miller, who is African-American.

White is not impressed with the results.

For example:

Time to update list?

White thinks part of the problem is that Tampa General relies on a list of available contractors that is 13 years old. He believes a new list must be compiled.

As a Tampa City Council member, he won approval to update a similarly old list, an exercise that revealed the city was sending out bid requests to companies whose owners were dead or out of business.

Miller said he regularly updates the hospital's database of available contractors. He said he has traveled the state looking for eligible companies, working with them to overcome obstacles that prevent them from making competitive bids.

"I'm black. I've been black for 56 years," Miller said. "I want to do business with black-owned businesses, but I have to be fair in doing it."

He said he talked with county officials about doing a new study to update the hospital's database. He was told the likelihood of identifying enough new businesses was not enough to justify the cost of producing a new list.

Madeleine Courtney, a longtime member of the Hospital Authority who is now its chairwoman, said the issue is often raised by new appointees to the board. She said the numbers may not look good, but that is not due to lack of effort.

"Every time we get new members, they say the numbers just don't look like what they should look like," Courtney said. "Les works very hard to make sure we do everything we can. It's important to the whole board."

Long-standing issue

Another prong of that priority is hiring minority employees. Those numbers look better, and authority members will get them at their next meeting, Courtney said.

Tampa General spokesman John Dunn noted that the hospital has been providing quarterly reports to the authority on minority contracting since 1997 as evidence of its commitment.

"So we do take it seriously," he said.

Tampa City Council member Tom Scott, who as a Hillsborough County commissioner sat on the Hospital Authority, voiced concerns similar to White's when he was on the board. He was the authority member who insisted the hospital adopt a minority enterprise program.

Each quarter, he said he would ask why the numbers seemed so small when it came to awarding contracts to minority firms. Each quarter, he said he received the same answer: There weren't enough firms available.

"Those numbers should have improved," Scott said.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.