Updated: February 2, 2011 at 12:00 am
The recent City Council decision to defer a vote on the future of Memorial Health System is prudent and one the Board of Trustees of Memorial supports. There are many misunderstandings about Memorial Health System and what an ownership change would really mean for our community. To be fair, health care is complicated, and hospital transactions are not high on the average person’s list of concerns.
As vice chair of Memorial’s Board and a member of the Mayor’s Task Force to convert Memorial to a community-centered nonprofit, I hope to clarify the issue.
The idea to change Memorial’s ownership to a community-based nonprofit came from a city commission of dedicated volunteers, and their thorough, open and independent year-long process that researched how to build the best health care in Colorado Springs. They unanimously recommended that Memorial change to a community nonprofit. We endorse this idea, and seeing it through; we believe the more you know, the better this legacy-making decision will be.
In a way, making Memorial a community nonprofit is a simple idea: Remove city politics and bureaucratic red tape from the picture; let Memorial continue to do what it does best — care for patients. Unencumbered, Memorial not only preserves its present commitments and programs, but can expand them and be more innovative. The Public Employees Retirement Association issue will, I believe, be resolved to benefit Memorial’s employees and community interests.
Critic’s charge that such a plan amounts to a “giveaway.” The commission’s research suggests just the opposite. Everything Memorial is or will become stays here, for our benefit, eliminating the current risk to taxpayers.
Remaining government-owned is unsustainable, based on what we know about the current and future health care industry. As a community, we could cope with this reality by selling Memorial to an outside commercial health system, but that would mean we lose local control and jobs. Any one-time proceeds would be a financial loss long-term, taking into account lost jobs, programs and community impacts associated with commercial hospitals.
By contrast, other communities with independent, nonprofit health systems have seen just the opposite. Poudre Valley Health System, in Fort Collins, is one of the highest quality, lowest cost providers in Colorado. It converted from a county hospital to a nonprofit in the 1990s. Jobs have increased five times faster than the population, and the health system grew from a $100 million a year organization to $1.2 billion.
Memorial’s Board is convinced that, as the community learns more about this proposal, voters will recognize the value and importance of converting Memorial to a nonprofit to preserve the asset we have today and make it even stronger and more sustainable. That is, in part, why I was among those who recently recommended postponing this ballot initiative until November.
Outside business interests will continue to seek opportunity here. Already, one company has spent tens of thousands of dollars on anonymous mailers and phone calls to mislead, confuse, and discredit a public process. But once we sell “our car” to someone else, there is no getting it back.
Sale to a for profit enterprise is a true “giveaway” – a giveaway of jobs, local focus, and local control – despite whatever promises might be made. National experts warn that other communities’ decisions to sell their health systems often resulted in unexpected costs and regrets. Let’s not be next.
To learn more visit Memorial’s blog, http://thefutureofhealthcare.com, or review documents at http://memorialcitizenscommission.com. An awareness group, Keep Colorado Springs Healthy, has also formed, http://keepcolo?radospringshealthy.org.
James Moore is the Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, Memorial Health System, Colorado Springs