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C-TH board delays medical mall discussion

by Sharon Carter

Minden Medical Center employees who attended the Carson-Tahoe Hospital Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night are still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The hospital board, which was scheduled to discuss and vote on a proposal to partner with a private company to operate the public hospital’s satellite urgent care clinics, chose to shelve the issue until a special meeting March 17.

Minden Medical Center employees said they were told the issue would be postponed.

– Employee concerns. “A large group of us planned to be here, but when we heard the board would put it on the back burner tonight, most of us decided to stay home,” said one employee, a Minden resident who asked not to be identified. “It’s important to us. If they vote to go with the private company, it would mean disaster for the employees.”

Particularly, she said, long-term employees could lose their hospital retirement benefits. As employees of the Carson City-owned hospital, clinic employees have retirement benefits through the state’s Public Employee Retirement System.

That retirement system, into which a number of Minden employees have paid for up to 19 years, would go away if the operations were privatized, she said.

“We were also told that those of us who wanted to could go back and work at the hospital. What they don’t tell you is that the hospital would take us back on an “as-needed” basis – only when there are openings and not necessarily in our specialty fields,” she said. “It also bothers me as a (Carson Valley) resident. We worked hard, donated time and money, to build the (Carson Valley) Health Center and get the hospital to come. This would change everything.”

The Carson Valley Medical Center was the precursor to the Minden facility. The urgent care operation moved into the hospital’s new Minden facility last summer.

– Hospital response. C-TH Chief Operating Officer Ed Epperson said Minden employees may be jumping to conclusions.

“Assuming the hospital board agrees to partner with the group, which might or might not happen, that doesn’t automatically transfer ownership of the Minden emergency center to the partnership,” Epperson said Friday.

“But, let’s assume the partnership occurs and the board decides to move the Minden emergency center under the partnership,” he said. “Our employees there would be offered positions within the hospital system.”

Epperson said the C-TH system, which operates two acute hospitals, always openings for nurses, including emergency room nurses, in any given month.

“When you employ more than 200 nurses, there’s always some turnover,” he said. “There is also the seniority issue. A number of our Minden employees have seniority that would guarantee them jobs. We would do everything possible to keep them within the system. Of course, they could also get good offers from the ‘ventureship.'”

– Too many questions. Hospital trustees said they had too many questions regarding the issue to feel comfortable voting on it.

“Right now I’ve got 29 questions,” Trustee Paul Saucedo said.

Another trustee, Dr. Basil Chryssos, questioned elements of a draft operating agreement between the hospital and the company, Physician Select Management, LLC, which specified that the hospital would provide 90 percent of the partnership’s capital, but would have only a 50 percent vote in decisions regarding operation of the facilities.

“I thought the idea was to limit our risk of financial loss,” Chryssos said. “But, it appears we’re carrying all the money.”

Trustee Tom Metcalf suggested the board continue to support the concept and keep studying it.

“We need to get it done properly,” Metcalf said. “And, tonight’s not the night to discuss all of this.”

– Unacceptable losses. After the meeting ended, Carson City Supervisor and liaison trustee Pete Livermore said the problem is that the hospital’s two Carson Valley operations, the Minden Medical Center’s urgent care clinic and the Valley Meadows Rehab and Subacute Care Center (formerly the Cottonwood Care Center), together post losses of more than $1 million per year.

“The Minden Medical Center loses about $30,000 or more per month. Valley Meadows loses about $60,000 a month,” Livermore said. “It’s the property owners of Carson City who are at risk if the facilities lose money, not the residents of Douglas or Lyon counties or anywhere else. We’re responsible to them and we have to watch what we’re doing.”