Members to vote on Valley hospital expansion

Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Members of Valley Hospital are deciding the future of the hospital this week.

They are voting on a proposal from a Texas-based company to build a new $75 million hospital. The facility would replace the existing hospital in Palmer and be nearly double the size.

Ballots will be counted Thursday. At least two-thirds of those voting must approve the venture. The hospital has about 2,300 members.

Valley hospital has been the sole hospital in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, since it opened in a tent in 1935. It is run as a nonprofit and is overseen by a board elected by members. Any resident of the area willing to pay the $5 membership fee can become a member.

Valley Hospital officials say the joint venture is necessary for the hospital to survive. They argue the hospital needs to expand to stay competitive.

But a small and vocal opposition has begun to build. Their biggest concern is not with the idea of building a new hospital, but rather partnering with Triad Hospitals Inc.

Triad is the nation's third largest for-profit hospital company with 33,000 employees and revenues of more than $3 billion a year. Triad is a 3-year-old company with little track record and too many ties to companies charged with illegal practices, opponents argue.

Triad is a spinoff of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which in 1999 paid a record $840 million in criminal fines, civil penalties and damages to end a government probe of its Medicare billing practices.

Some current Triad employees, including Chief Executive Officer Denny Shelton and Chief Operating Officer Michael Parsons formerly worked at HCA. In addition, Triad last year acquired Quorum, another HCA spinoff, shortly after Quorum paid nearly $100 million to settle health care fraud claims.

''I cannot get past the who (in this deal),'' said Howard Bess, a local pastor leading the effort against the joint venture.

Critics also say they don't believe Triad's promise to share control of the new hospital. Under the deal, Triad would provide the majority of the financing and get the majority of the profits, but share control of day-to-day operations through a governing board made up equally of Triad representatives and local community members.

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