I was encouraged earlier this month when I read this Northfield News article, Task force to recommend review of hospital ownership.
A council-appointed study group on Tuesday will recommend a thorough review of the future of the city-owned Northfield Hospital, including a look at the facility’s ownership. The Ad Hoc Finance Study Group, charged with reviewing potential revenue streams for the city, made the recommendation after more than a year of discussions with the Hospital Board. It’s expected to discuss its findings during next week’s City Council meeting and ask that a task force be appointed to conduct the in-depth review.
LWV observer Jane McWilliams reported on the March 13 Council meeting:
In addition to selling the hospital, other options the study group has discussed include establishing an annual contribution to the city from the hospital, similar to that approved earlier this year, and creation of an alternate ownership while retaining local control…
How the task force and the hospital board might work together was a concern. Councilor Betsy Buckheit said it should be clear that the city is instigating this. Councilor Ivan Imm who serves on both the council and the hospital board said cooperation shouldn’t be forced, but the council should ask for the opportunity to work together. The city administrator and hospital president will support the task force in its work and it is possible they will contract “outside resources.”
Jane included this comment with her report:
What are core city services? The work of the Finance Advisory Group appears to be guided by their collective understanding of what constitute core services. This is a topic the council has not discussed, and thus has not given the advisory group direction on this important value. It is a topic we need to think about as citizens in evaluating the work of the council as it struggles to adjust to difficult financial times.
I don’t have an informed opinion about Northfield Hospital ownership but I like what the Ad Hoc Finance Study Group has done thus far so their recommendation to have council-appointed study group look at the issue seemed a good one. But for some reason, even talking about the issue is troubling for some people. In yesterday’s Nfld News: Hospital study on hold, pending conversations between leadership
“This has been very disturbing for us at the hospital,” said Crow. “This has been very disturbing for our staff. There’s a devaluing of what we do just by having this discussion.” Speaker after speaker asked — even implored — the City Council to take care when studying such a valuable community asset. The hospital, owned by the city for nearly 80 years, showed a net profit of $2.7 million in 2010.
Hospital President Mark Henke likened the process to a digital rectal exam, saying “there’s only so much you should fight.” “We’re trying to run a $75 million company … and we’re going through a lot of distractions. As we go through our exam, it remains to be seen if we will need sedation,” he said.
I’m with Jane McWilliams. Why not have a Council-led community discussion about what constitutes core public services, including the Northfield Hospital? After all, real men don’t fear the finger.