TMH to gauge site preference

Public sentiment polled

Jeremy Browning

A firm paid by The Memorial Hospital soon will poll Moffat County residents to determine public sentiment regarding the proposed replacement hospital.

One of the stated purposes of the poll is to gauge whether citizens wish the hospital to be built on Russell Street, or elsewhere Ã: which would require taxpayer support. The board hopes to find out if residents would consider funding a portion of the project if they prefer an alternate location.

But another purpose came to light when the board of trustees discussed the poll questions with a representative from the firm Dan Jones & Associates.

If the polls indicate the public wants the new hospital to be built at the current location, it seems the board will use the poll results to try to convince the Craig City Council to close Russell Street.

As the board members discussed what they wished to gain from the survey, building committee chair Ron Danner spoke to that purpose without specifically naming it.

Danner wanted to know “the validity of this instrument (survey) being taken to another government body” and being used as a show of community sentiment. He said he wanted to make sure there was a “strategy for how to utilize” the survey in that manner.

Trustee Gene Bryant was less subtle.

“There’s a political thing with the mayor,” Bryant said.

He echoed Danner’s concerns.

“We want to be very confident to say the community has spoken with this survey,” Bryant said.

Dianne Meppen, a Dan Jones & Associates project manager and research specialist, assured the board that with the selected poll size of 400 residents, the accuracy would be plus or minus 5 percent. She alluded to such levels of accuracy being used in court.

“These are very standard numbers,” she said.

The numbers should be taken as valid, she explained, because of several reasons.

Ã: The polls would be conducted using industry standard protocols to ensure accuracy.

Ã: Everyone in the community would have an equal chance of being polled.

Ã: Dan Jones operates outside Craig Ã: outside Colorado in fact, and should be viewed as an impartial party with no vested interest in the outcome of the poll.

Most people will accept the results of the poll as accurate, she said.

However, there will be a group of those who complain the poll is useless.

“Always,” she said, “those who are not satisfied will question the results. All you can do is show them the numbers and the method.”

A “census,” Meppen said, “is not financially practical.” And although it would seem that contacting “absolutely everybody” would be a true gauge of the opinion of the community, accepted statistical models and truly random polling offer a financially feasible method to achieve accurate results. Even random face-to-face polls cost two or more times what phone surveys cost, Meppen said. A “census” would be nearly impossible.

If the poll shows a large majority of respondents support a particular scenario, it would indicate widespread support for that scenario, Meppen said.

“As you get away from fifty-fifty, the (polling) error actually decreases,” Meppen said.

One worst-case scenario would be if the poll showed 50 percent support one position, 45 percent support another and five percent are undecided, for example. When the numbers cluster around 50 percent, the issue at hand is a divisive one, Meppen said.

“If it’s close to 50, you actually have quite a challenge,” Meppen said.

Often, such results hint at a lack of education, or confusion regarding the issue.

“Even ‘mills’ or ‘bonds’ are pretty confusing to the population,” Meppen said. “It’s quite a complicated thing you’re asking them to understand.”

If the results indicate strong support for building the hospital on Russell Street, and if the hospital passes the pre-application phase of securing funding with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, then it would be time to address the Craig City Council about closing Russell Street, Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps said.

Phelps said he discussed the issue with City Manager Jim Ferree, along with a city attorney and an attorney for TMH, more than two years ago. Phelps said he inquired about putting the issue before the council as a resolution that would take effect only when and if TMH was ready to build on Russell Street.

Phelps said he understood the consensus at that meeting was that such a council resolution at that time would not be binding on future councils.

If TMH pushed the issue prematurely, and if the council voted to close the street, TMH would have to assume responsibility for maintenance of the street until the new hospital was built. But TMH doesn’t want to own a street it may not need until it knows it will need it, Phelps said.

“If they vote to vacate, we’re responsible (for the street),” Phelps said.

When the time comes, TMH will be ready, Phelps said.

“We have the process defined. We know what we need to do and we know there’s a 90-day timeline,”Phelps said.

But since no one knows where or exactly when the new hospital will be built, “It makes no sense (to press the issue) until we pass the pre-application with HUD,” Phelps said. “That’s our cue.”

The council “wouldn’t want to vacate the street until they’re certain a hospital would be built,” Phelps said. “We’re not there yet.”

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or

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