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OUR VIEW: Finally, Memorial gets a fair shake (vote)

By: WAYNE LAUGESEN
August 24, 2011
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Congratulations to the Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach. On Tuesday, they craftily dislodged our community from the Memorial Health System quagmire that threatened more political division and mistrust.

Three committees have researched options for the health system’s future over the past two years. Each has determined that Colorado Springs would benefit most by converting the city-owned enterprise into a non-profit. An early proposal was to ask voters to give the hospital to a non-profit agency. More recent discussion advocates leasing the system to a non-profit.

Opponents complain that an out-of-town consultant (costing $600,000-and-growing), the committees and Memorial CEO Larry McEvoy gave no sincere consideration to options other than a non-profit business model. HCA-HealthOne Colorado, a for-profit hospital corporation, complained that all potential for-profit buyers had been shut out of consideration.

Proponents of the non-profit appeared in a race last weekend to get a non-profit proposal on the November ballot, further alienating those who want to look at other business plans. The sense of urgency was encouraged by a letter McEvoy sent to Memorial employees on Friday, telling them to lobby the Council for swift action. McEvoy argued the hospital can no longer compete as a government entity and is running out of time.

The vote on Tuesday appears as a classic compromise born of genuine concern for Memorial’s future. A majority on Council chose to present a ballot measure in November that will ask voters whether they would like to release themselves from city charter amendments that require them to bail out the hospital if it goes broke. Additionally, councilors voted to solicit bids before the end of 2011 from a local independent nonprofit — the McEvoy option — and other entities that may have interest in leasing the hospital. A new “task force” — with members representing council, the mayor’s office and a business organization known as Regional Leadership Forum — will review the bids and recommend a winner for City Council to place on ballots in the spring.

“Nothing will happen to the hospital without a vote of the citizens,” wrote Councilor Tim Leigh, in an electronic newsletter sent to constituents.

It’s not a perfect resolution, but in the realm of politics it’s pretty darn close. It appeases those who say a shot at conversion to a non-profit is urgent, and it should ease frustrations of those who want examination of competitive bids.

“The decision to do an RFP (Request for Proposals) is obviously good,” said Kevin Walker, a consultant for HealthOne. “That is a box that needs to be checked one way or another before anything goes forward. It is also good that this will involve voter approval of the chosen bid, so there is no sense of getting railroaded. My client is pleased for the opportunity to make a proposal.”

With a fair system in place, all who care about Memorial should scrutinize bids and share their opinions. The new process appears swift, open and fair. Let’s get a great outcome.

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