Support for I-70 Medical Center strong, but opinions divided about proposed sale

Friday, August 22, 2008
When Assistant Attorney General Paul Wilson asked who had contributed money to help start I-70 Medical Center, more than half the people in the room stood. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

The clear consensus at a three-hour public hearing in Sweet Springs Thursday, Aug. 21, was that members of the community strongly support the I-70 Medical Center and want to see it succeed.

Past that, opinions diverge about how best to achieve that goal.

The meeting was called by the Missouri Attorney General's office to gather public input on the pending sale of the non-profit hospital to a for-profit company.

Hospital board member Jill Hieronymus speaks during a public hearing about the impending hospital sale. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

One hospital board member estimated that at least 120 people filled the Sweet Springs elementary school gym for the meeting and about 25 of them came forward to make a statement about the sale or about the hospital and its staff.

Among the speakers were members of the community who had helped start the project that resulted in the building of the hospital, members of the board of trustees, members of the hospital staff and patrons of the facility.

Paul Wilson, assistant attorney general and deputy chief of staff, said not all sales of this sort require a public hearing.

But the AG's office received a number of inquiries about it and officials thought they needed more information, mainly because the hospital is so new.

In most comparable cases, the AG's office is familiar with the details far in advance of the sale, Wilson said, because deals typically take a long time to complete.

"It's a little unusual for us to hear about (a deal) when we receive the agreement," Wilson said. "We had to get up to speed quickly and this is one way to do that."

The AG's office received the asset purchase agreement between the I-70 Medical Center Board of Trustees and CAH Acquisition Company 6 LLC on Aug. 6, Wilson said, and by law the attorney general has 20 days to review and respond to the parties in the transaction.

"The reason we're here is to find out what the community thinks about what the hospital board has done," Wilson said. "As I think the size of the crowd indicates, this is a significant moment in the life of this community."

The passion with which a number of residents spoke about the hospital and its importance to the community supported Wilson's assumption.

"We've already lost one hospital. It's more painful than anybody wants to remember," Connie Dohrman said.

She was among a number of speakers who recalled the closing of Community Hospital in 1992. Bill Cook, who was president of the old hospital board when it closed, said there were similarities between that situation and the current plight.

"We looked desperately for somebody who would inject money into the hospital," he said. "I've been there trying to run a hospital without any money. It's like trying to bake bread without any ingredients."

And that was one point of dispute among speakers. While some, including members of the board who voted in favor of the sale, contend that the hospital was under-capitalized from the start, overburdened with debt and not likely to continue operating at a loss for much longer, others argue that the fiscal situation is improving.

Board member Ron Hinton noted that the four board members who voted against the sale are the ones most deeply involved in the hospital's finances.

He said some of the hospital's current financial burdens -- maintaining clinics and developing new ones, for example -- were never supposed to be part of the hospital's mission. Those facilities should have been developed separately, he said.

Hinton said the hospital currently is ahead of its goal for cash-on-hand, with 42 days of operating expenses available. In 2006, the hospital had only six days of operating expenses available, and in October 2007 it was 14 days, showing a trend in the right direction, he said.

"I believe we have a viable operation," he said.

Another issue raised by opponents of the sale was the manner in which the negotiations were conducted. Board member Jill Hieronymus said she had only 24 hours to review the final contract and felt she needed more time to ask questions.

Board President Dean Cook said the compressed timetable was due in part to the fact that the board had signed a confidentiality agreement with the buyer and information about the sale was being leaked to the public, so the process was concluded quickly.

How the negotiation process was conducted is one aspect of the sale the attorney general's office will look at, according to Wilson.

He said the review would take into account whether "the transaction is fair to the non-profit corporation and to the people it was designed to serve."

See also:

I-70 Medical Center sold to HMC/CAH:

www.marshallnews.com/story/1449224.html

Sold? I-70 Medical Center board member says hospital sold; CEO says it's premature to comment:

www.marshallnews.com/story/1448210.html

On the Net:

www.i70medcenter.com/

www.hmccah.com/

Contact Eric Crump at marshalleditor@socket.net

Comments
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  • When you see twenty cars of workers in the rear parking lot and no cars in the front lot and emploryee that do not give a darn about the people who helped build the hospital and force them to drive to marshall to have blood test we knew than I-70 was doomed to bad of us''''

    -- Posted by grandpa69@embarqmail.com on Sun, Aug 24, 2008, at 7:48 AM
  • This is a comment that was not supported one time during the townhall meeting in Sweet Springs on Thursday evening.

    There were over 200 people that attended the townhall meeting. Five people stood up and said the sale of the hospital was not warranted. Three people stood up and were not sure if the sale of the hospital was warranted or not. And sixteen people stood up and said the sale was necessary for the hospital to grow and survive. But, everyone unanimously only had positive things to say about the care that themselves, their friends, or their neighbors had received at the Medical Center.

    granpa69 should have stood up and made his voice clear at the meeting concerning the hospital. Instead of skulking around anonymously on public boards making comments that can't be addressed. If you were interested in actually improving a situation you could make your comments to the businesses themselves so they can address your issues with their service. But it appears you're more interested in anonymously damaging a business rather than helping a business make improvements.

    After reading your comments it will be interesting to see how long Marshall will put up with you before they force you to drive to Sedalia for your blood tests.

    -- Posted by rukidden on Sun, Aug 24, 2008, at 8:33 AM
  • I attended the meeting that night. I think the reporting on the opinions expressed was fair.

    I researched HMC/CAH company about two weeks ago when the intended sale was first reported in the electronic version of the Marshall Democrat. I googled HMC/CAH and got the website mentioned in this article. I learned a bit about the whole concept of critical access hospitals and how reimbursement differs from other hospitals as well as a little about the company.

    Imagine my surprise when the same website has changed their top banners to pictures of I-70 Medical Center. I don't know what hospital they featured two weeks ago, but this morning it was clearly I-70. There is even a testimonial from Vivian Wiley on the site.

    I wonder if HMC/CAH wants to buy I-70 Medical Center to genuinely help them out, or if they want to prevent someone else trying to buy it.

    -- Posted by sassyrn on Mon, Aug 25, 2008, at 12:22 PM
  • I'd hate to break it to you, but 2 weeks ago the hospital picture on the top banner of HMC/CAH's website was also I-70 Medical Center.

    I would believe HMC/CAH does want to buy I-70 Medical Center to help them out. If you had read anything on their website, that is what they are about.

    -- Posted by byrone on Mon, Aug 25, 2008, at 4:01 PM
  • Are the opponents to this sale looking at what is going on at the two hospitals nearby that I70 competes with? Fitzgibbon in Marshall is expanding with fancy new radiology and expanded out patient services in addition to their Cancer treatment center endeavor! Bothwell has been renovating and updating. If barely keeping your head above water and inching along painfully is good enough for these men that oppose the sale of I-70, then that is a sad low standard of care that they are trying to force on the community. Profit is not a bad word. This is a chance to stay competitive, and offer awesome treatment options five minutes from home instead of having to drive long distance for it. Gas is high right now. I'd prefer to see I-70 succeed and give Fitzgibbon and Bothwell a run for their money, and this sale will do that. Without it I think the Medical center will get left in the dust, and die a slow death.

    By the way if you think "Not For Profit" is so great, go look at the big wastes of money spent at Bothwell and Fitzgibbon meant for your aesthetic pleasure. Namely, the huge ridiculous art wall in the Bothwell Sedalia clinic next to Walmart, or the giant water fountain in front of Fitzgibbon. I'm sure those projects were money well spent and I'm sure Ron Ott's and John Dawe's big ego's are richly rewarded by these expenditures that must somehow contribute to patient care in ways that elude me. Maybe the opponents of this sale need to look around their big ego's and actually look at what is going on around them. This sale is the only way to compete with entrenched "not for profit" businesses around here that have run monopolies on the the surrounding areas for far too long.

    -- Posted by capitalistchick on Mon, Sep 8, 2008, at 11:00 PM
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