By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican Co-Publisher
In little more than a month, voters in Chase County will go to the polls for the state’s Primary Election. One of the county issues appearing on the ballot will be whether or not to dissolve the Chase County Hospital District. I urge you to vote “FOR” when you mark your ballot, which will dissolve the district.
When voters approved the petition measure in the May, 2010 Primary Election, the primary purpose of the effort was to establish an elected hospital board of trustees—a worthwhile idea.
The only way to create an elected board in Nebraska is to form a hospital district, which is what county voters did by a
53-47 percent margin in the 2010 Primary.
Here’s probably the biggest misconception of the whole ordeal—while the creation of a hospital district did create an elected board, it did not create an elected hospital board. The hospital district and the county hospital are two different, distinct entities. Thus, two separate boards.
The only way for the hospital district to control operation of the county hospital is to transfer it from county ownership to district ownership.
While that may sound like no big deal, in actuality, it is.
Since the vote, hours and hours of time have been exhausted by the hospital’s staff, its board and legal counsel to investigate the necessary process. Even with that, no one could be sure what other unintended consequences may occur if such a transfer takes place.
What the county hospital board and hospital district board did learn was that it would cost $400,000 or more in legal fees, accounting expenses, insurance changes and other costs to transfer the hospital between entities.
In my mind, those costs alone justify halting the process and instead approving the dissolution of the hospital district. I can think of any number of ways to better spend $400,000 to improve health care here versus pouring it down a hole, which is essentially what we would be doing if the transfer were to proceed.
But perhaps the biggest fear in all of this centers on the fact that a five-member hospital district board could sell off our county hospital without even so much as a vote of the people.
You may say that could never happen. But with the changes in health care coming over the next decade or so, it could be tempting to a board, especially if tax dollars were being used to fund hospital operations.
Amazingly, the Chase County Community Hospital is one of only two county hospitals in Nebraska that does not collect property taxes for its operation. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself, given the changes we’ve already experienced in health care over the last decade.
On your recent tax statements, you may have seen a tax levied for the hospital. That levy was not for the county hospital but for the hospital district, which has the authority to levy taxes. Those taxes were needed to help pay for legal bills incurred while researching the transfer process.
As you can see, when we voted for a hospital district in May, 2010, we certainly didn’t get what we thought we were getting. Voting to dissolve the hospital district represents the best remedy to bring this whole mess to an end. Say yes to dissolving the hospital district by marking “FOR” on your ballot next month.