University of Cincinnati trustees in August will consider a plan to make the university hospital a private institution.
University hospital administrators have said the hospital must go private to remain competitive in the healthcare market. Under state control, the hospital pays higher costs for pensions, benefits, construction and support services than its competitors do.
But opponents, including those who spoke last week during a five-hour hearing on the subject, question whether the university should lease to a not-for-profit, private corporation the assets of a hospital that has received millions of taxpayer dollars since the 1970s.
They also say a private hospital might abandon the university hospital's mission to care for poor people.
The hearing was the last of four held to discuss the proposal.
Representatives of two managed-care plans said they agree with the university hospital's management that operating costs are high and could affect whether the hospital continues to receive managed-care contracts.
Thomas Anthony, executive vice president of ChoiceCare, Cincinnati's largest HMO, suggested selling the hospital and using the proceeds to underwrite care for the poor, as well as research and education.
"The marketplace is saying that three out of every four hospital beds in greater Cincinnati will not be needed in five years," Anthony said. "Therefore, we question whether it is appropriate to invest hundreds of millions of tax and charitable dollars in sustaining facilities, many of which we know will not ultimately survive."
Several trustees have said they do not have enough information to decide the issue. If the plan is approved, the hospital would become private Jan. 1, 1997.
At the last hearing, six University of Cincinnati faculty physicians urged quick approval of the privatization plan.
"If we do not adapt with the times, we could lose patients," said Kenneth Davis, M.D., an emergency medicine physician.
An opponent suggested cutting management layers.
"Perhaps we have not been cost-effective in the right areas. We've got CEOs, CFOs and maybe some UFOs," said patient counselor Deborah Hazeley, who finds reimbursement for patients who lack money.