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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

St. Luke’s counterattack

CEO raises questions about hospital’s future in valley

St. Luke’s was "tickled" to come here two years ago, but "there have been more challenges than anyone thought there would be."

Ed Dahlberg, CEO, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center

Express Staff Writer

In a rare local appearance Monday, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center CEO Ed Dahlberg told Blaine County commissioners that the hospital corporation could leave the county "high and dry," if its new medical complex south of Ketchum proves to not be financially viable.

Dahlberg’s suggestion that St. Luke’s could pull out of the Wood River Valley if faced with financial problems came during a seemingly impromptu St. Luke’s presentation to the commission. St. Luke’s officials said they wanted to educate the commissioners on the history of events leading to the hospital’s decision to operate in the valley.

Dahlberg’s presentation follows a recent denial by the county planning and zoning commission of a 40,000-square-foot medical office building St. Luke’s proposed for its medical complex site south of Ketchum. St. Luke’s has less than 10 days now to file an appeal with the board of commissioners to have that denial overturned.

St. Luke’s has argued throughout the application process that its new hospital cannot be financially viable without the adjacent office building.

St. Luke’s was "tickled" to come here two years ago, Dahlberg said, but "there have been more challenges than anyone thought there would be.

"If we had known then what we know now, I don’t think we would have come to the same conclusion."

Imposed requirements, like "moving wetlands and dredging rivers" do not come free, Dahlberg said. If the county does not ease up on its strict planning requirements, he said, St. Luke’s could decide to quit doing business in the valley in two years.

"Obviously, we couldn’t do this now," he said, "because we’re in too deep."

The agenda for Monday’s meeting said the city of Sun Valley, St. Luke’s and the commissioners would work on "ownership responsibilities" pertaining to the new hospital. But early on in the meeting, commissioner Len Harlig announced that St. Luke’s wanted to discuss the medical office building.

County prosecutor Doug Werth said he was concerned that such a discussion could prejudice an appeal, but he did allow a discussion about "history that doesn’t directly address the medical office building."

Immediately following Werth’s comments, Dahlberg asked county staff for a copy of the written comments the P&Z had made prior to denying the medical office building last month.

"I don’t think we want to discuss them, necessarily," he said, "but if we could understand them…."

Dahlberg said he’s concerned with "the lack of attention being given to a particular part of the definitive agreement" Sun Valley, St. Luke’s and Blaine County entered into in 1996.

That agreement outlines the transition from county-run healthcare to that provided by St. Luke’s.

A "repurchase option" in the contract gives Sun Valley and Blaine County a first chance at buying St. Luke’s new facilities if St. Luke’s decides to sell them.

Dahlberg suggested the option could leave the county without health care if St. Luke’s decides to pull out. The option "ought to be more on the minds" of the commission, he said.

Following Dahlberg, Michael Donovan, a lawyer representing the Wood River Medical Center, said, "A medical office building has always been integral [to the new hospital]—so that’s the historical perspective."

If St. Luke’s chooses not to appeal the office building denial, a planned rezone of the medical complex area could allow the building to be constructed without P&Z approval.

Dahlberg said he wanted to know as soon as possible how long a rezone would take, whether the rezone would allow the office building as a permitted use and what size office building the rezone would allow.


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