After looking at other solutions for Mountain View Hospital's long-term financial health, the board of directors believes that transferring its assets to St. Charles Health System is the best option.
>Final decision in November
"The main reason we went to (St. Charles) is so we could keep the hospital in this community," explained Janelle Orcutt, of Madras, chairman of the MVH Board of Directors, at the board's Oct. 23 meeting.
Community members expressed concerns that Mountain View is turning over about $9.7 million in assets without adequate input from the people who make up the taxing district.
"If this is a tax-based hospital, why do we not have a chance to vote?" asked Louise Muir, of Madras, who once worked at the hospital.
Les Smallwood, of Madras, suggested that board members who weren't interested in maintaining the local hospital "should have said so and left."
"I feel that turning this over -- all the assets to St. Charles -- is a little bit ridiculous right now," he said.
Linda Larson, of Madras, who worked as an emergency medical technician at local hospitals, including St. Charles, before her retirement, said that she has no problem with St. Charles, which she called "an amazing hospital."
However, Larson questioned whether or not the board can just turn over a tax-supported hospital. "The hospital district is owned by the people," she said.
Camille Harris, of Madras, said she worked on the original bond issue for the hospital, and doesn't understand the necessity of transferring the hospital's assets to St. Charles.
"I feel community members were a little short-changed," she said. "It would be nice to have more input."
Madras resident Theresa Morris said she has been treated at both Mountain View and St. Charles, and "I'd rather be treated here."
Morris was also concerned about a potential term of the asset transfer agreement which stated that current employees would be offered employment if they meet "certain criteria."
"That's a very vague and frightening term," she said. "When St. Charles took over Redmond (hospital), a lot of people lost their jobs. That concerns me. I don't want to see this hospital lose its compassion."
Addressing those concerns, Orcutt said that the board held two public hearings on the proposed transfer, during which they laid out the reasons for the proposal.
"This hospital needs a big infusion of cash; St. Charles agreed to put in $10 million," she said, to enable the hospital to make improvements over the next four years.
Jim Diegel, CEO of St. Charles Health System, said that besides improving the emergency room and other facilities, the $10 million investment will include changing over to electronic health records -- as mandated by law, and new equipment, tools and technologies.
"Ten million (dollars) is what's guaranteed," he said. "It doesn't mean it's only $10 million ... I'm thinking a bigger investment over time."
Board member Tom Kirsch said that it's unfortunate that the public doesn't understand the hospital's situation.
Because of changes in the way the hospital will be compensated by Medicare and other government programs, "If we stuck with our pride, in a couple years we'd be coming to the voters and saying we can't make payroll," he said, noting that the board is trying to look ahead.
"St. Charles is a nonprofit," he stressed. "When they make a profit, all the money stays here in Central Oregon."
Diegel said that St. Charles has agreed to maintain a similar level of services, particularly with the obstetrics department. "Everyone understands the importance of obstetrical service here in Madras," he said.
Attorney Kurt Hansen, of Portland, who is assisting Mountain View with the asset transfer process, said that the transfer will help ensure the hospital's financial stability.
"This is actually about -- not change -- it's about having the same people taking care of the community," Hansen said.
"We'll still have our hometown hospital," said board member Bev Schultz. "Everybody thinks we're losing all that."
The board expects to take final action on the asset transfer in November.