Members approve Mat-Su hospital deal

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2002

PALMER (AP) -- Valley Hospital, the only such facility in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, will enter a joint venture deal with a Texas company that has promised to build a new $75 million hospital in the Palmer-Wasilla area.

By a vote of 1,331-206, members approved the joint venture with Triad Hospitals Inc., the nation's third-largest for-profit hospital company.

Valley Hospital is a nonprofit organization controlled by its membership, and its bylaws called for a two-thirds vote by those members for any such arrangement. Membership is available to anyone in the hospital service area who pays a $5 fee.

The new hospital would replace the existing one in Palmer and be nearly twice the size, with 75 beds, compared to the current facility's 39.

Valley Hospital officials spent thousands on a campaign to convince members to approve the venture. The deal still needs approval from the state health department and may need to be reviewed by the state attorney general's office.

Opponents said they were not surprised by the vote.

''It sounded really good to build a brand-new hospital, and for a lot of people that was a no-brainer to vote for it,'' said Al Strawn, head of a local credit union and one of the main opponents.

Hospital executives had argued the hospital needed a new building to stay competitive but couldn't afford to build one on its own. Many residents already bypass the hospital to get their care in Anchorage.

Opponents agree the hospital must expand, but questioned teaming up with Triad, which manages more than 200 hospitals nationwide.

They questioned the 3-year-old company's short track record and said they didn't believe a large for-profit company would share control with the smaller nonprofit Valley Hospital Association.

''I hope it turns out well,'' Strawn said. ''I hope some of the assumptions I'm working under turn out not to be the case.''

Valley Hospital was started in 1935 as the Matanuska colony was getting under way.

Under the deal, Triad would provide the majority of the financing and get the majority of the profits, but would share control through a governing board made up equally of Triad representatives and local residents. Construction would begin next summer at the earliest and take two years.

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