MONTROSE – The Montrose Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution Monday that both affirmed and somewhat softened their previous angry reaction to the news in October that the Montrose Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees had decided to lease the county-owned hospital’s operations to a new nonprofit corporation.
Initial statements by the commissioners in October accused the trustees of “acting beyond the scope of their authority” when they created a 501(c)(3) to handle the hospital’s day-to-day operations. The resolution states, however, that “this Board does not object to the lease of the [hospital] to a non-profit entity” provided the lease contains adequate provisions to protect standards of care and protect “the Hospital as a public hospital.”
The board also took the position that any lease “be approved only after appropriate public meetings to explain the reasons for and benefits of leasing the hospital, and after the public is provided reasonable opportunity to comment.”
There remains, however, a good deal of distrust on both sides.
The county created the hospital with voter approval in 1946. Following the trustees’ recent announcement, on Oct. 15, that they were leasing the public facility to Montrose Memorial Hospital, Inc., commissioners called for the ouster of all six trustees, who were, in fact, appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the BOCC. The commissioners also sought a preliminary injunction to stop the lease from taking effect.
Trustees, for their part, have denied acting outside their authority, and won a temporary restraining order that prevented their removal by the BOCC prior to a pending hearing in district court, on Dec. 14. Both sides were ordered to negotiate.
Those negotiations have been private and have borne little fruit, apparently, because last week the commissioners set a date of Dec. 17 for a special hearing to remove the trustees.
The hospital board has since announced a series of “community workshops” regarding the controversy scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 30, Thursday, Dec. 2, and Tuesday, Dec. 7. Each discussion will be from 6-8 p.m. in the hospital conference rooms A and B, and according to a hospital press release, the “information presented will be the same each night.”
Trustees have said that their reasons for going nonprofit are many, but that they include the following. There are tax and revenue benefits. A 501(c)(3) can receive grants and donations. MMH as it is structured now is not part of a hospital district (as Telluride and Delta are), and districts can raise tax dollars. Without 501(c)(3) protection, the trustees believed, if Amendments 60 and 61 had passed on election day, the publicly held MMH would have been liable for approximately $700,000 in additional taxes. On top of all this, there were rumors that one or more members of the BOCC had discussed selling the hospital, or some of its assets, for county benefit. This was a prospect, the trustees believed, the 501(c)(3) would prevent.
In introducing the county’s resolution on Monday, Commissioner David White vehemently denied any intention to sell the hospital. He accused the trustees of holding five months of secret meetings prior to their October announcement. He admitted that the trustees “are empowered” to rent or lease the hospital operations, but he chided them for “violations of process.”
“Why do we [commissioners] keep being set out as the bad guys?” White asked. “We’re not the bad guys. We’re doing our due diligence. We would have been ripped to pieces had we not done this with Extra Air, to pick a recent example.”
Commissioner Ron Henderson said the county’s Monday resolution was intended “to honor the commitment made in 1946.”
Commissioner Gary Ellis, while he confessed to being gone for much of the negotiations, said that he “would like to see negotiations with the trustees continue, to avoid litigation. I’d like to hold out hope that we can go ahead and work this out.”
“It’s a bit of a standoff at this point,” commented retired surgeon Ted Dickinson. “Stay tuned.”