Strong hospitals are crucial to healthy communities
The Kansas City Star
Hospitals are where people welcome new life and say final goodbyes. They are major employers, givers and receivers of charity and mainstays of communities.
It’s no wonder that emotions run high when change is in the works. In recent weeks, people have packed into hearings regarding three hospitals.
In the case of two — Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., and St. John Hospital in Leavenworth — a formal process for sale appears to have led to a workable resolution.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt consented to the sale of the two financially troubled hospitals for a cash price of $54.3 million to Prime Healthcare Services of California. Schmidt said testimony at a hearing — and an independent analysis — convinced him the price was reasonable and the hospitals were nearing financial shutdowns without a buyer.
Some unflattering testimony emerged about the new owner’s labor relations and billing practices. But others praised Prime’s delivery of health care. The attorney general’s office must ensure that Prime meets its commitment to maintain the hospitals and their emergency rooms for at least five years. A community advisory board must also act assertively.
The situation with the third hospital in flux, North Kansas City Hospital, is much more complex.
City officials blundered last year when they took the first steps toward a potential sale of the hospital without properly laying the groundwork. The hospital’s board of trustees, which is responsible for financing and running the place and assumes all of the risks of doing so, learned from the city’s website that the council planned to hire a New York investment bank for advice on a possible sale.
There is a legal question about whether the city can make that call. Given reasonable worries that a sale to a for-profit owner might change the hospital’s community-based nature, it’s not surprising the board opted to go to court.
Ideally, a judge would speedily rule on whether the hospital’s destiny belongs to the city council or the board of trustees. But the city has questioned whether the trustees’ lawsuit is valid, setting up a legal morass that could go on for months. The dispute is costing both sides hundreds of thousands of dollars and placing the hospital in a destructive limbo.
Legislation filed in Jefferson City by the lawmakers who represent the area, Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Republican, and Rep. Jay Swearingen, a Democrat, would enable the hospital’s board, by a majority vote, to become a nonprofit corporation.
This bill is overreaching, especially with the jurisdiction unsettled. If authority for the hospital’s fate turns out to rest with the city, the legislature will have pre-empted that and set a dangerous precedent.
A far better course is for the city to stand down. Despite what officials say, there is no reason to think the hospital, which recently received a respectable AA- bond rating, is sliding downhill. Last week’s election — which saw Don Stielow, who opposes the sale, upend incumbent Mayor Bill Biggerstaff in a landslide vote — is a good indication of how North Kansas Citians feel about the issue.
A hospital birthed as a community asset should not be sold in a poisonous cloud of distrust. If the city of North Kansas City needs revenue, its leaders should work with citizens to determine a more palatable option.