Support for I-70 Medical Center strong, but opinions divided about proposed sale
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.
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."
I-70 Medical Center sold to HMC/CAH:
Sold? I-70 Medical Center board member says hospital sold; CEO says it's premature to comment:
On the Net:
Contact Eric Crump at firstname.lastname@example.org