Is it broken? That's the question Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members need to ask before they consider an ordinance that would rescind powers previously delegated by the assembly to the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board, aligning the provisions that govern the board with those of the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board.
Before they answer, they should talk to those most affected by the proposed changes service area board members, hospital employees and residents of the service area. If they listen to those second and third and fourth opinions, they will vote against Ordinance 2007-28 on Aug. 7.
There's no doubt such a move would, in the ordinance's own words, "simplify administration of those service areas and eliminate issues relating to differing roles and functions of the boards."
That's a reasonable goal for the borough government, but changing the rules to better serve those in borough government doesn't necessarily mean the people are better served. And serving the people acting in the best interests of the public should be the borough's primary concern.
The proposed ordinance makes it clear who the boss is: the borough mayor. But good government is about putting power in the people's hands, not centralizing it in the hands of one leader, no matter how accomplished and well-intentioned that leader may be.
That's particularly important in the southern peninsula, where residents often feel their voice isn't heard like it should be in Soldotna, the heart of borough government. Less than 100 miles separates here from there, but sometimes it seems like another world away, as distant as Juneau and Washington, D. C.
One of the reasons the ordinance limiting the powers of the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board is so troubling is that it has all the appearances of Big Brother trying to ram something down the people's throat all for their own good, of course without them having a say in any changes.
A discussion with the service area board, the hospital's operating board, hospital officials and southern peninsula residents before the ordinance was introduced would have been far more appropriate.
While the current system may be somewhat confusing and a little complicated, it's worked. And it easily can be argued the reason it's confusing and complicated is because of the lack of training regarding the various roles and responsibilities for service area board members, operating board members, assembly members and others. Before changing the rules, some training to make sure everyone is operating off the same page would be in order.
The timing for the ordinance couldn't be worse. The second phase of the current hospital expansion soon will be under way. Plus, the current operating agreement with South Peninsula Hospital Inc. is set to expire in April. Why throw another major change into that mix?
South Peninsula Hospital is the borough's second largest individual asset, right behind Central Peninsula Hospital. The proposed ordinance, however, fails to recognize a different kind of asset, more valuable than the hospitals themselves: the ownership residents of the southern Kenai Peninsula have for their hospital. The borough mayor and assembly members would do well to tap into that asset before making changes to the powers of the service area board.
Everyone may have different ideas on how best to make it happen, but the ultimate goal is the same: a healthy, profitable hospital.
Emergency surgery to the service area board isn't needed for that to happen. Neither is a termination of the existing contract with South Peninsula Hospital Inc. while a new agreement is negotiated. Instead, the prescription is far less painful: 1. At the very least, assembly members should table or postpone any changes to how the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board operates until after the upcoming contract negotiations are completed. 2. Changes to how the board operates should be made in consultation with the board and residents in the service area. 3. And the borough should extend its contract with SPHI during contract negotiations, not continue it on a day-to-day basis.
Anything more will be too bitter a pill to swallow.
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