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Memorial lease attracts wide interest

November 14, 2011
photo - Memorial Hospital Photo by The Gazette file
Memorial Hospital Photo by The Gazette file 

Although HCA-HealthOne was the only bidder for Memorial Health System that released its full proposal on Monday,  several other hospital companies offered clues as to what their offers look like.

Jim Moore, chairman of Memorial’s board of trustees, said the bid to turn Memorial into an independent nonprofit contains no surprises to people who have followed the work of the task forces considering Memorial’s future.

“We think the approach that is best suited to the future needs of the community is a community-ized approach,” Moore said. “How can we do it so the benefits accrue to everyone in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

“When you come right down to it, our intention is going to be pretty consistent with what has been discussed,” he said.

Susan Loo Pattee, a community activist who has been working on the Memorial bid, said that proposal is much more community focused than previous plans, including a group of community stakeholders who would oversee the board and hospital.

“It’s much bigger now than ‘Memorial hospital’s proposal,’” Pattee said. “It’s so much a part of our history and our DNA to be independent and control ourselves.”

Kevin O’Neil, president of Braxton Technologies, who was also working on the proposal, said local ownership is key to developing Memorial’s economic and community impact.

“The question comes down to, do we feel we can take care of ourselves better than an outsider can take care of us?” he said.

The independent nonprofit option was recommended by a citizens commission that spent most of 2010 studying alternatives to city ownership for Memorial and endorsed by the previous City Council.

In previous meetings, the task force questioned the ability of Centura Health, the state’s largest hospital network and the parent company of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, to address anti-trust concerns that would come if it were to manage both of Colorado Springs’ hospital systems.

Centura spokeswoman Wendi Dammann talked instead about the potential a Centura-Memorial partnership offers.

“Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, a part of the statewide Centura Health network of care, has been serving the Colorado Springs community for more than 124 years,” Dammann said in a statement released Monday. “We believe the time is right for Colorado Springs health care providers and community leaders to band together to create the community-based health care system of the future. Our proposal will demonstrate how a community (and even competitors) can work together for the common good to design and deploy the health care system of the future.”

Sisters of Charity Leavenworth Health System runs the Exempla Health Care hospitals in the Denver area and owns a hospital in Grand Junction. Exempla spokeswoman Christine Woolsey said the system’s knowledge of Colorado would make it a strong partner for Memorial.

“SCLHS has a rich history in Colorado with Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction,” Woolsey said in a statement released Monday. “We are always interested in exploring potential growth opportunities that enable us to further our mission to improve community health.”

University of Colorado Hospital, which is forming a joint venture with Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Health System, did not comment Monday. Bruce Schroffel, UCH’s president and CEO, has previously touted the similarities in history and mission of a partnership with Memorial.

“I think both of us have had an interest in a partnership with Memorial,” Schroffel told The Gazette in October. “We think we could add value — we have a lot of cultural similarities, historical similarities.”

Schroffel said a partnership with University of Colorado Hospital would speed efforts to develop medical education in Colorado Springs. He also said that, in a partnership with UCH, Memorial employees might be able to stay in the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association pension system. Previous PERA estimates that it would cost Memorial as much as $190 million to leave the system scuttled earlier plans to turn it into an independent nonprofit.

Another bidder, Tennessee-based for-profit Community Health Systems, did not respond to multiple requests for comments on its interest in Memorial. CHS operates several hospitals around Colorado through a subsidiary.

A seventh potential bidder, Arizona-based nonprofit Banner Health, said last week that it was no longer interested in leasing Memorial.

The task force running the leasing process limited bidders to hospital companies that already operate large, acute-care hospitals in Colorado.

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