Hearing on Memorial lease draws praise and criticism

June 12, 2012
photo - Voters will decide in August whether to lease city-owned Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health Photo by The Gazette file
Voters will decide in August whether to lease city-owned Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health Photo by The Gazette file 

City Council on Tuesday heard praise for the proposal to lease city-owned Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health, but also some concerns and one outright condemnation.

That condemnation came, unsurprisingly, from anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, who called it a giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars and said the $259 million deal was a “fire sale” price. He said the measure should be moved to the November election, instead of the current plan for an Aug. 28 special election.

“The city wants to keep the citizens in the dark,” Bruce said.

City Attorney Chris Melcher said the special election, which University of Colorado Health is paying for, would allow voters to learn about the lease and that it was set late enough in the summer for families to be back from vacation and children back in school.

“We thought this single-issue election will give out community the opportunity to focus on this issue,” he said.

University of Colorado Health’s offer was unanimously endorsed both by City Council and by a city task force that weighed several bids for Memorial. The deal has earned praise from Mayor Steve Bach, who Tuesday reiterated that he thought the lease was a “grand-slam home run,” and from local health and business leaders.

Toby Gannett, executive director at the Palisades at Broadmoor Park assisted living community, said there would be broad support for the measure.

“You have a great plan,” he told council. “Move forward with it and the business and community leaders will be behind it.”

Cardiologist Dr. David Rosenbaum said Memorial needs a partner like University of Colorado Health to end the uncertainty over ownership and to prepare for the future.

“It’s really critical that we are ready as a community to navigate those difficult waters that lie ahead,” he said.

Karen Rupprecht, an 18-year employee at Memorial, raised concerns about University of Colorado Health’s plan to end Memorial employees’ state Public Employees’ Retirement Association pension plans and switch them to a 401k-style plan. The switch will cut retirement benefits for longtime employees without giving them enough time to make up the difference in the new plan, she said.

“Don’t let ‘It will be a management headache’ be an excuse for throwing us away with the trash,” Rupprecht said.

University of Colorado Health CEO Bruce Schroffel said his staff spoke to PERA twice, but couldn’t find a solution. He said the health system is designing a package for all of its employees that would be competitive and attractive to employees.

Walter Lawson said the money for the lease would ultimately be paid for by patients through increased medical costs. Schroffel said University charges market rates and that the lease payments would be paid for through efficiencies and improvements at Memorial.

District Attorney Dan May said that he initially had concerns about the lease language dealing with Memorial’s forensic nurse program, which he said was a vital part of collecting evidence and prosecuting rape cases, but said that Melcher and University of Colorado Health had responded to his concerns and that he supports the deal.

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