Hospital backs state referendum

Constitutional amendment would allow public/private partnerships


The Memorial Hospital recently made a deal with Northwest Health Specialists Center in Craig to use its Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine.

When a patient at TMH needs an MRI scan, he or she will get it done at Northwest Health Specialists Center and the bill will be sent back to TMH.

TMH Administrator Randy Phelps said when Northwest Health Specialists Center purchased the piece of equipment about a year ago, TMH would have explored the possibility of partnering in its purchase but state law prohibits TMH from doing so.

Which is why at last week's TMH Board of Trustees meeting, board members unanimously approved a resolution showing their support for Referendum B, which will be on this fall's ballot in Colorado.

Referendum B proposes to amend the Colorado Constitution to allow public/private healthcare partnerships.

The referendum would allow public hospitals to partner with private health care services in the purchase of equipment and services. The public hospital then could share in the revenue brought in through the service.

"It benefits rural hospitals more than it does urban hospitals because the rural hospitals don't have as much revenue," said state Sen. Jack Taylor, who partnered with four other senators and nine representatives in introducing the bill this year. "The public/private partnership allows hospitals to go out and buy things they normally could not afford."

The issue was on the ballot in 1998 but did not pass.

Gary Davis, vice president of government affairs with the Colorado Health and Hospital Association, said it failed due to lack of public education in 1998.

"We didn't have enough money to educate people in 1998," Davis said. "Studies have shown that if people don't understand an issue 55 percent of people will vote against it."

Davis said the Colorado Health and Hospital Association introduced the initiative in 1998, but this year legislators brought it forward, which might help.

"We were very late getting the word out in '98," he said. "We hope by the legislators getting the word out people will know about it this year."

Allowing hospitals to partner with private industries would provide them with another possible revenue source, Davis said.

It would be easier for hospitals to purchase additional equipment because they could partner in the investment with private industries, and then share in the profits, Davis said.

"Those who primarily benefit will be rural communities with public hospitals," he said. "Your hospital is a perfect example of one that could benefit from this."

Phelps said TMH would benefit if Referendum B were passed this November. If partnerships are made within the community, money would still stay in the community, he said.

In cases like the MRI machine at Northwest Health Specialists, Phelps said TMH is forced into a contractor/vendor relationship.

"We have to buy the services," he said.

New services could also be brought to the area, he said.

"This could enable folks in Craig to receive services they would otherwise have to travel for," he said.

Taylor said it would benefit rural communities, which is why he supports it.

"Being a rural legislator, it was an easy thing for me to support," he said. "The next step is selling it to the people. It's still a local control issue. That's why I voted for and

co-sponsored it."

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