KREMMLING — The board members of the Kremmling Memorial Hospital District have unanimously agreed to a hospital management agreement with Colorado’s largest health network.
The hospital district, which does business as Middle Park Medical Center, operates health facilities in Kremmling, Granby and Walden. While the district board will still retain governance over the strategic direction of the hospitals, Centura will provide management and leadership under the direction of a Centura-employed chief executive officer.
The district’s current CEO, Cole White, said the agreement brings other benefits as well.
“It’s about being part of a bigger system,” White said. “Would you rather be in the ocean with a rowboat or an ocean liner? Both serve the same function, to keep you afloat, but the ocean liner has a lot more to offer than the rowboat.”
At the time of publication, the district did not provide a copy of the adopted agreement, citing legal issues involving proprietary information. But White and Board President Bernie Murphy noted agreement benefits include better access to education and resources for physicians, improved access to clinical services, more leverage to negotiate with insurance companies and collaboration on keeping health care local whenever possible. Centura will also provide useful assistance in navigating the nuanced changes brought by the Affordable Care Act.
“They’re the big guys, and we’re the little fish,” Murphy said. “The way everything is changing in health care, we need help.”
The resolution, adopted at a special meeting last Friday, May 2, creates Centura Health’s first-ever hospital management agreement. The faith-based non-profit network has 15 hospitals, six senior living communities and employs around 6,000 physicians in Colorado and Kansas. Part of its 2020 Strategic Plan is to “become (the) region’s rural health outreach leader.”
“We believe in nurturing the communities that we serve,” said Bob Wallace, rural health service line director for Centura, during Friday’s meeting. “Just because you live in a rural community doesn’t mean you should have second-class health care.”
The agreement, however, hasn’t been without controversy. It comes on the heels of financial troubles that have been shaking the district since shortly after the Granby facility opened its doors. District administrators couldn’t meet monthly base rental payments for the facility in 2013 and 2014.
Last winter, they dipped into reserve funds to make the bond payment. This spring, they put a freeze on non-essential expenditures. The district has also faced troubled waters in terms of transparency. Earlier this spring, it received the lowest score in a Sky-Hi transparency audit of government and districts in the county. White followed up with a letter to the editor promising better transparency in the future. But last Friday’s special meeting raised some eyebrows.
The district board held its regular meeting the Tuesday before, on April 29. During the public comment period, district residents asked if there were any updates on the Centura agreement, which has been in the works since last fall. According to members of the public who attended the meeting, board members told the public there was nothing to report. They also did not mention the special meeting planned for Friday.
According to Public Relations Director Michelle Balleck, the district posted notices of the meeting 72 hours in advance at the library, post office and the district’s administrative offices in accordance with Sunshine laws.
“The board did not address the special meeting at Tuesday’s regular meeting as the board was unsure if the special meeting would be necessary at that time,” she said.
While most members of the public spoke in favor of partnering with Centura Health, they took issue with the perceived secrecy of the meeting to adopt the management agreement. Around 25 members of the public showed up to voice their concerns, which took up the bulk of the one-hour Friday meeting.
“I feel like we’re being duped, we’re not being told the truth, and there’s something to be hidden,” said one district resident, during the Friday meeting.
For their part, board members acknowledged they had made a mistake.
“I guess you could say we dropped the ball as far as telling folks that we were having a meeting Friday night,” Murphy said.
The management agreement will go into effect on June 1. To cover the costs of the agreement, the hospital district will pay Centura $40,000 for the first year, $60,000 for the second year, $80,000 for the third, then $100,000 for the fourth year. The district board will still control the Centura-employed CEO’s salary and benefits. They can terminate the contract at any time with 120 days notice. White said he expects both sides to officially sign off on the agreement this week.
While White and board members called the lack of notification a “slip-up,” they said the dialogue at Friday’s meeting was productive overall, and the management agreement will result in a positive relationship with Centura, the hospital district and locals.
“I think it’s going to mean really good health care for the community,” Murphy said. “That’s why we did it.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603