Mayor argues for task force: New CPH study group met with skepticism

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey is standing by his plan to create a task force to study the future ownership and management possibilities for Central Peninsula Hospital, despite initial resistance from Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members on Tuesday.

Carey outlined his idea to the assembly in Homer. His proposal is part of his attempt to strike up new conversations with the Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. board, the nonprofit board that governs the hospital, after a Sept. 7 decision by the assembly that curtailed discussion on the possible sale of the borough-owned hospital.

The mayor called for more public education and involvement on the hospital's future.

He accused the Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. board of stepping away from the process.

At the assembly's regular meeting, CPH Chief Ryan Smith said he agreed with the need for more public education on hospital issues and processes the board went through in recommending the partnership with the for-profit Texas-based LHP Hospital Group.

"We never had the opportunity to share the valuable information with the public," he said, pointing to the assembly's decision to end that conversation.

The proposed Health Care Task Force would last one year and be composed of 11 members: two appointed by the assembly, two appointed by the hospital board, two by the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board, two by the mayor and three from the general public through a volunteer process. According to Carey's proposal three applicants would be chosen through a random drawing.

The mayor's quick timeline and proposal upset some assembly members.

"It was kind of an understatement to say it was a spirited discussion," Assembly President Pete Sprague said during the regular meeting, commenting on the mayor's report.

Assembly member Charlie Pierce of Sterling, told Carey that it was the mayor's Aug. 27 letter to the CPGH Inc. board that stopped the process from moving forward.

Pierce agreed with Carey on the need to educate the public on the issue, but said that creating a new task force would only create delays without further benefit to the public. He also noted the $500,000 in consulting and attorney fees already spent by the hospital board to study the future of the hospital.

He said that the assembly should use the work of the hospital board and the knowledge and experience of the service area board and the assembly to find a solution instead of spending another year and more money on a different approach.

The mayor indicated that he would move forward with his plan to create a task force regardless of the assembly's approval, although his idea requests two assembly appointees.

Carey said the largest fault of the discussion that culminated on Sept. 7 was that the public was not involved, and that the task force would be an effective means of educating them.

Sprague said the discussion provided clarity and emptying of emotions after a tough six months working on the issue.

"I think there's a lot of good ideas on how to go forward, but just changing the component and the scope of what he intends to do is really important, and I hope he's willing to do that." Sprague said. "Something of this magnitude, with all that's gone on, I thought it was important that it had our stamp of approval."

By the end of the assembly meeting Tuesday night, tempers had cooled.

"My hope on the task force was to bring all people to the table starting at the same point, including the public," Carey said. "It is still my hope that the assembly would choose to participate."

Pierce apologized for his strong views.

"Yeah, I'm passionate about it. I'm eager to get the information out," he said. "No ill will intended on my part."

Pierce said he hoped there would be room for a compromise between the mayor and the assembly. He suggested an action item at the next assembly meeting to consider having the service area board and assembly work together with the information readily available to them.

"I do hope we're able to approach this and work together," Sprague said.

Carey told the assembly that he intends to discuss his proposal with the CPGH Inc. board at its next regular meeting on Sept. 30.

He has said he hopes the group would start work by the end of October and finish up next October.

Aside from the mayor's Health Care Task Force proposal, the assembly meeting was otherwise noncontroversial, with most items passing by unanimous consent.

The assembly passed a resolution to fund at $45,000 a part-time mechanic position for Kachemak Emergency Services. It also introduced two ordinances to increase the salary by $10,898 of the KES assistant chief and to appropriate $300,000 from the KES capital project fund for a tanker-pumper fire truck to be staged at the Ruby Way fire station on Diamond Ridge. Those two ordinances go up for a public hearing and further consideration by the assembly at its Oct. 26 meeting.

Speaking to the ordinances, KES board member Mike Peterson of Homer noted that the assistant fire chief makes about $15,000 less a year than other assistant chiefs in the borough.

In other actions, the assembly:

* Accepted $981,000 paid by the state to the borough's unfunded Public Employees' Retirement System liability;

* Accepted $210,000 from the U.S. Department of Interior for the Adopt-a-Stream program;

* Appropriated $237,000 to finish shell space in the Mountain Tower at Central Peninsula Hospital;

* Authorized the assessor to accept a late-filed senior citizen exemption application from Jean Holben;

* Amended borough code regarding appeals from contract awards;

* Amended borough code correct an error in the sales tax percent; and

* Changed the title of the Emergency Management Department to the Office of Emergency Management.

The assembly's next regular meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 12 in Soldotna.

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