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Mat-Su residents mull new hospital deal

Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A proposed deal to build a $75 million hospital in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough has the backing of many political and business leaders, but not all residents are ready to support the idea.

Under the deal, the small, nonprofit Valley Hospital would join with Dallas-based Triad Hospitals, the nation's third-largest for-profit hospital company. Together they would build a facility nearly twice the size of the current hospital in Palmer. The new hospital would cover 152,000 square feet and have room for 75 beds, compared with 39 now.

Valley Hospital officials and members of Triad, who flew in from Texas, met last week with local business leaders, doctors, nurses and other residents to pitch the plan.

Residents' backing is critical. Valley Hospital needs approval from its members and from the state, which requires community support for a new facility. The nearly 2,300 members will be able to cast their votes Nov. 14.

At least two-thirds of those voting must support the deal for it to move forward.

The Wasilla and Palmer chambers of commerce adopted resolutions supporting the proposal. The mayors of Wasilla, Palmer and the Mat-Su Borough also endorsed the idea.

While there has been no public opposition, many residents have raised questions.

Many were curious about where the new hospital would be built. Hospital officials have said only that it will be between Palmer and Wasilla. They said they are being purposely vague to avoid driving up land prices.

The biggest concern seems to be that the deal sounds too good to be true.

Under draft terms announced by both sides, Triad, which reported more than $3 billion in revenues last year, would build the $75 million hospital debt-free.

It would provide the majority of financing, be the majority owner and get a majority of profits. But Valley Hospital would still have an equal say in how the hospital is run. That would be done by giving Valley Hospital members 50 percent of the seats on a 10-member governing board overseeing operation of the facility.

''I think they're going in with their eyes not really open if they really think a company is going to invest that kind of money and then not want the major control in it,'' said Joseph Hawkins, a chiropractor who attended the meeting in Palmer.

But Denny Shelton, chief executive officer of Triad, said his company intends to do exactly that and has done so in its three other joint ventures with nonprofits, including a medical center in El Dorado, Ark., in which Triad owns a half interest. Triad manages and operates more than 200 hospitals across the country.

Shelton said he believes local control creates the best services and attracts the most business.

Luther Lewis, who runs the Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado, told the Anchorage Daily News that Triad has allowed his hospital to complete a $30 million expansion that added beds and specialties.

''It's been a real blessing here,'' he said.

Triad, which focuses on building hospitals in rapidly growing areas in small to mid-sized cities, considers Mat-Su a perfect fit, Shelton said.

With more than 60,000 residents, Mat-Su is the state's fastest-growing community.



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