While presenting a tweaked version of his health care task force idea to Central Peninsula Hospital's governing board on Thursday, Mayor Dave Carey came up with a new idea.
What if the Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. board were allowed to select one of the public members on the proposed task force?
"It seemed like the task force was changing on the fly," CPH's CEO Ryan Smith said of his observations during the meeting.
Carey proposed on Sept. 20 forming an 11-member group in an attempt to start new conversations about the future of health care on the Kenai Peninsula.
The mayor's idea was met with firm criticism by the hospital service area board and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Leaders questioned the task force's necessity and value and said it lacks specificity.
In response to that criticism, Carey made changes to the concept, which he presented to the hospital board on Thursday, but the board and the assembly still want to see the details of the task force pinned down before going forward.
Carey's initial idea called for two assembly representatives, two hospital board representatives, two mayor's office representatives, two hospital service area representatives and three public representatives selected by lottery.
The original task force would have spent a year studying data collected by the hospital board related to governance and ownership of CPH. The initial task force also would have looked into the formation of a "Central Peninsula Health Care Commission" that would possibly usurp the hospital board and hospital service area board already in place. But on Thursday, Carey took the commission off the table, said the task force would meet for six months instead of a year and said the public members on the task force would be appointed, not randomly selected.
"I hope these modifications are more acceptable to this group than the initial idea that I floated," Carey said to the hospital board. Carey also said he's open to more suggestions.
CEO Smith, who, on Friday, spoke on behalf of the hospital board, said the changes move the task force idea "in the right direction," but more needs to be done.
Smith sais the board wants to know details like: How often the task force would meet; Will it involve South Peninsula Hospital?; How exactly will the public members be chosen?; and, Will amendments to the lease and operating agreement be considered?
"The board is going to wait and see how the assembly handles it and what the final task force is going to look like before making any appointees," Smith said. "There's no hesitancy to participate, they just want to know what its focus and mission will be."
The mayor's task force idea followed the borough assembly's Sept. 7 vote against an ordinance that would have allowed the discussion of hospital ownership changes to continue.
The ordinance proposed allowing the hospital board to sign a letter of intent to enter into a 50/50 partnership with a for-profit company based in Texas, per the hospital board's recommendation. The assembly killed the ordinance before it could even be introduced.
At Thursday's meeting with the hospital board, Carey said, "I believe the decision made on Sept. 7 was a premature decision."
Carey's words frustrated the hospital board because many members said it was inconsistent with the mayor's previous efforts to block a partnership with the Texas firm. Members of the board expressed hesitancy toward working with the mayor in the future because they don't think they can trust him.
"I'm concerned about working with you because, on the one hand you said that it was a premature decision, but on the other hand you made numerous decisions and comments basically speaking against the board," John Hoyt, a hospital board member, said to the mayor. "I thought we had a partnership with you and then we're hearing and reading things."
Hoyt said if Carey really thought it was appropriate to introduce the Sept. 7 ordinance the mayor should have lobbied to the public in support of introduction rather than speak out against a potential partnership.
Many on the hospital board agreed they do not want to trap the hospital in a politicized process, which they think might happen with Carey's proposed task force.
Carey said his intent for the task force is to get the public involved in the discussion, which is intended to maintain strong health care services on the Peninsula.
"My office in the borough is a political office. If the idea of taking it out of politics means people should not know what's going on, then this will be political. I would hope that that's not what you are identifying as politics," Carey said.
Assembly President Pete Sprague said the mayor's most recent comments about the assembly's Sept. 7 decision represent a complete 180-degree turn.
The mayor missed his opportunity to truly support introducing the ordinance, Sprague said.
"He as the mayor could have sponsored that ordinance and he chose not to," Sprague said. Sprague co-sponsored it with Charlie Pierce, of Sterling. "We thought it was the responsible thing to do to bring the question in some form to the public."
Sprague, who has been critical of the mayor's task force, wants Carey to wait until after the Oct. 5 elections, which will replace one third of the assembly, before moving forward.
"I would like the assembly to wait until the new members are seated and let the new assembly choose how they want to address either joining the task force or not," Sprague said.
Carey said he intends to further discuss the task force with the assembly on Oct. 12, which will be the current body's last meeting together.
The hospital service area board, which serves as a liaison between the hospital and the borough, is willing to be part of the mayor's task force.
"We are going to participate," Tim Peterson, the board's chairman, said. "We want to be at the table."
Andrew Waite can be firstname.lastname@example.org@peninsulaclarion.com.
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