Memorial task force turns attention to board’s future

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If Memorial Health System makes it onto the November ballot, and if voters choose to turn it into a nonprofit, it will need a new board of directors.

The task force charged with studying the change is considering recommending new board members.

Memorial’s board is six members short of the limit of 15, so even if the issue doesn’t make it to the ballot, it won’t be a waste of time, said City Councilwoman Jan Martin, who is leading the task force.

“They need some new people on the board, and maybe this is a way to help with that,” she said.

Some members of the board are term-limited and their terms end this fall, and others have already left, said Vic Andrews, vice chairman of the Memorial board. That opens the way for new members.

Choosing a board is just one step in the process of removing Memorial from city ownership. That process started more than a year ago when City Council appointed a citizens’ commission to explore the possibilities for the municipal hospital and make recommendations about its future.

Last November, the commission recommended turning the system into an independent nonprofit hospital. But new City Council members elected in April, opted to push back the ballot measure so they could learn more about the issue.

The task force is now leaning toward leasing the hospital’s assets to a nonprofit for a term of 50 years — with mandatory checks on the system’s performance written into the deal.

But the task force doesn’t want the responsibility of naming board members itself — instead it plans to ask the community leaders to join a commission that will name the board.

When that idea was floated during a July 29 meeting, it proved to be controversial.

“I don’t want to pick a commission and then face the criticism we faced when we chose the citizens’ commission,” Martin said. “That has muddied the waters for the whole issue. It’s really slowed it down. So we need to be sure that the people we pick are the right people.”

Tim Leigh, another City Councilmember member on the committee, said the commission should go beyond the usual suspects when suggesting board members.

“There are people here with enormous talent who aren’t involved because they haven’t been asked to be involved,” he said. “Those are people we need to go after.”

The task force plans to ask community business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce or the Economic Development Corp., to suggest board member candidates to the commission.

The point is to get qualified people on the board, no matter what happens with Memorial’s governance in the future. The current board believes it needs both more diversity and more health care experience.

The commission is seeking a doctor and a nurse, as well as someone in health care management. It had recruited and recommended people for the board, but city council did not appoint them because the hospital’s future is uncertain.

Susan Saksa, executive director of Leadership Pikes Peak, said choosing board members should be done carefully.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about board service for a nonprofit,” she said. “They need to realize they’re guiding a corporation, it’s more than just feel-good service.”

Board members have certain legal and fiduciary duties, she said. Getting members who are educated in both is vital. Training people for leadership positions is the mission of Leadership Pikes Peak, Saksa said.

“They not only need to understand the mission. They need to be excited about that mission,” she said. “Fundraising might be a priority. Reading a financial statement is pretty important.”

The board of directors also has to choose the administrative leaders of the nonprofit.

“That’s important job,” she said. “Keep in mind that the board should be chosen strategically.”

And there are people with experience that will serve boards well — people with human resource or accounting experience.

“And if you are going to have a regional presence with your nonprofit, you need to have a regional presence with the board of directors,” she said. “Choose people who can bring marketing and communications skills.”

And big names aren’t always the best choices.

“There might be pressure to choose people who are important to the community,” Saksa said. “But we’re a community of 600,000 people, many of whom are very, very talented. Don’t choose from a small pool, go out and see who else is out there.”