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Opinion Column
For the week of August 2 through 8, 2000

P&Z’s view of new St. Luke’s hospital puts valley health care at risk

Commentary by GENE WHITMYRE


By way of introduction, I am a member of the St. Luke's Medical Center Community Council and a resident of the Wood River Valley. However, I am writing this on my own and not as a representative of the council. Your "Memo to St. Luke's: stop the whining and threats," published in the July 4 Mountain Express was the inspiration for this response.

I was surprised that you would write such a critical piece for public consumption, without verifying the accuracy of the facts on which you based your criticism. Allow me to offer another view of the issues included in your memo. The following facts are offered for your consideration:

  • The Medical Office Building (MOB) is not an 11th hour afterthought. The MOB was contemplated as part of the medical center from inception. It was proposed as integral to the new medical center in an initial letter of intent from St. Luke's to the Sun Valley City Council and Blaine County Commissioners, dated Feb. 9, 1995.

  • Additionally, the MOB is mentioned prominently in the literature printed for distribution to potential donors in connection with the new hospital fund campaign, and was widely distributed throughout Blaine County during the year and one-half of the campaign.

Also, the MOB was prominently referred to in a slide presentation prepared for groups, service clubs and other organizations, which was readily available and widely viewed throughout the county during the campaign.

  • Further, in 1998, the county changed the definition of what type of buildings would be allowed as conditional uses in the existing RD zone. At that time, hospital officials were advised by county staff, P&Z members and elected officials that the changes would enable St. Luke's to construct both a hospital and a medical office building as conditional uses. In November 1998, a presentation of conceptual site plans, which including the MOB, was made to P&Z members.

In view of this background, it's inconceivable to me that the county P&Z members, when presented with the final plans for their consideration, said they'd never heard of the MOB. In my view this represents gross negligence on their part. Obviously, everyone connected with the hospital was stunned by this rejection.

I imagine [St. Luke’s chief executive] Ed Dahlberg's reaction was triggered by disappointment and frustration not only by this problem but also by the cumulative effect of years of difficulty in dealings with the county that have added millions of dollars of additional costs to this facility.

I can put your mind at ease that the citizens who made this project possible do not feel that St. Luke's has treated them as boobs. I can also assure you, as a contributor to the hospital fund campaign and as a member of this community who worked earnestly to help raise those funds, that the overwhelming majority of locals who made the cash contributions to build this hospital share the same sense of frustration and are in complete sympathy and agreement with Ed Dahlberg's reaction and statements to the county commissioners.

It's the county P&Z board who is treating its citizens like boobs, not St. Luke's. The P&Z's dilatory and negative approach to issues surrounding the construction of the hospital and the MOB is putting the future health care of the entire community in jeopardy. To paraphrase a statement made by one of the county commissioners, "It's time we switch from finding issues of why it can't be done to finding out how to make it work." That's excellent advice.

It's important to keep in mind that the hospital is not some entitlement due our community. Many seem to forget that the hospital represents a $33 million gift to our community. It's not costing the citizens of our county one-penny in taxes or assessments. Nor will a tax be incurred if the hospital loses money; that's St. Luke's responsibility.

However, if the imposition of unreasonable requirements sets the hospital up to lose money, St. Luke's has not contracted to bear those losses indefinitely. That reminder to county officials was long overdue.


Gene Whitmyre of Ketchum is a retired real estate executive.

 

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