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Jan 7, 2010 2:56 PM by Andy Koen

Discussion begins on future of Memorial Health System

The process of deciding how to restructure Memorial Health System is underway in Colorado Springs.

Leaders of the city-owned hospital system met with city council Wednesday afternoon in a special meeting to discuss whether to take the hospital private, let the city keep it, or find something in the middle.

Although the city owns Memorial, it doesn't currently receive any tax money to operate.  Memorial CEO Larry McEvoy says while that system works now, it isn't sustainable.

"If you look at the economics of the industry, we're heading toward a day where that will not work anymore," McEvoy said.

"Publicly held health care, in order to survive, is traditionally funded by tax payers, and what we hear loud and clear in Colorado Springs is, we like not paying taxes for Memorial."

The city's sustainable funding committee recommended that council review whether Memorial could become a financial liability sometime in the future.

At their request, McEvoy presented council members with a suggested framework for setting up community discussions on the issue, ultimately leading to a decision for voters.

"We think the community has a fantastic opportunity to have a conversation about how to craft healthcare that really works for Colorado Springs," McEvoy said.

Councilman Sean Paige says another factor driving this discussion is the national healthcare debate in Washington.

"What is now an asset, Memorial Health Systems, could it potentially become a liability with the advent of Obamacare or Congresscare or whatever you want to talk about, the future of healthcare history is up in the air," Paige said.

Although not directly advocating for the sale of Memorial, councilman Paige said it is worth considering.

"I'm not one of those who reflexively fear the private sector and thinks, oh if the private sector came in here and became the new owners and mangers of Memorial that we would get less care or that it would be a dire situation," Paige.

Another option suggested by councilman Bernie Herpin is to turn Memorial into a non-profit.

"It would still belong to the city, we wouldn't sell it, but we would change the way it's operating to insulate the city general fund from its liabilities," Herpin said.

None of the suggestions are guaranteed, which is the whole point of having community discussion in the first place McEvoy said.

"We're looking forward to seeing the community move off of sell or don't sell, to a conversation that has a ton of potential for our future," McEvoy.

City council will begin forming a citizens committee to facilitate public comment on the issue. The soonest the issue could end up in front of voters would be during the mayoral elections in April of 2011.

For clarity sake, Paige stressed that the city isn't engaging in these discussions to solve the current budget shortfall.

"It's going to take years to unfold and even if we did monetize the asset that's years down the road and I'm hoping we're going to be out of our budget crisis by then and our economic downturn."

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