Memorial’s best path: As a nonprofit

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By James Moore

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.

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.

Selling Memorial to an outside commercial health system 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 and grew from a $100-million-a-year organization to $1.2 billion. While no two communities are exactly alike, there are enough similarities between here and there to suggest Memorial would move in the same direction.

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, rather than put it before voters in April.

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.

Voters will likely be asked to decide on this proposal in November; take time between now and then to learn more.

The future of our Memorial is in our hands and worth our effort to learn more about what that future can be.

Moore is the vice chair of the Memorial Health System board.