From the start of a meandering process to determine Memorial Health System's future, we have supported the idea of Colorado Springs city government relinquishing direct control of our city-owned hospital, and using that opportunity to produce positive outcomes.
In these changing times, municipally owned hospitals have faced growing challenges. Recognizing this, civic leaders have explored other options for operating Memorial that would produce a solid income stream for Colorado Springs, but without the burden of financial responsibility.
After several years, during a time when Memorial also struggled to maintain its standing in the local market, the city finally agreed in June to a 40-year lease agreement with University of Colorado Health (see here for more). The deal already has been approved by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, and now faces its final obstacle: approval by city voters in a special mail election, with ballots sent earlier this week and due Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Admittedly, the negotiated lease is less than perfect. For example, it does not guarantee any local representation on the UCH board, so Colorado Springs will have no direct voice in its overall governance. There's also the fact that while UCH has agreed to keep all of Memorial's staff for six months, anything could happen beyond that. And though UCH did agree to continue the same philosophy of indigent care, there will be no benchmarks or direct accountability to make sure that happens.
But all that said, and following much study, we endorse the Memorial lease agreement and encourage residents to give it a convincing go-ahead.
It's true in one sense that voters really have no choice now, because any further delay in setting the course for Memorial's future could be catastrophic. The uncertainty of its fate, the loss of many doctors who took their business elsewhere (especially Penrose-St. Francis Health Services), and the costly controversy that came with the departure of CEO Dr. Larry McEvoy, together have taken a toll on Memorial's bottom line, not to mention staff morale and community support.
Those factors have undermined the hospital's stability and heightened the urgency to move forward as soon as possible.
But since its selection as the potential lessee, UCH has calmed many concerns with promises to raise the bar at Memorial — just as it has done with its Denver and Fort Collins operations.
So people shouldn't look at this as being forced to approve a flawed new arrangement. UCH running Memorial as a regional hub for health care should generate substantial, long-term economic activity for Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region.
UCH has promised a good package of benefits and reassurances for its employees, who in addition to worrying about their jobs have also wondered about their likely exit from the Public Employees' Retirement Association.
But the biggest positive for Colorado Springs has to be the prospect of a campus for the University of Colorado School of Medicine. That means more research, more likely partnerships, a teaching-hospital atmosphere, and almost certainly an increased pool of young medical professionals who will decide to live and develop their practices in Colorado Springs.
With a committed investment by UCH of at least $3 million a year, along with broad local support, that med-school branch already is far closer to reality than most people know. It would create a major boon for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, enhancing its influence in the region.
Not to be overlooked, either, is the fact that Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz has contributed greatly to the recent emergence of UCH and the School of Medicine. Colorado Springs is clearly on Anschutz's radar, since he purchased The Broadmoor last year, so perhaps his future philanthropy will enhance that med-school campus here, and/or the hospital itself.
We can get all of that, and the city government also gets $74 million up front (though much has to remain untouched for a few years, and some might be siphoned away by liability-related litigation) plus an annual $5.6 million payment for 30 years, all destined to develop a foundation committed to the area's health. Add to that UCH's promise to invest at least $1.1 billion into capital improvements at Memorial over the life of the lease, and you have a solid framework for decades to come.
Vote YES on the Memorial lease to UCH.