The growing movement to privatize public hospitals notched a big victory last week when University of Cincinnati Hospital came under private control despite opposition from city officials, labor unions and advocates for the poor.
The transfer occurred Jan. 1, days after Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Judge Thomas Crush denied an injunction to block it.
The 695-bed hospital is now controlled by the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, a not-for-profit corsortium that includes Christ Hospital and Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati and St. Luke Hospitals of Kentucky.
The University of Cincinnati, which leased the hospital from the city, decided the hospital should become private in order to cut costs and remain competitive (May 6, 1996, p. 18). The hospital's assets total about $401 million.
In two separate lawsuits, the city and 12 taxpayers challenged privatization, arguing that the hospital is owned by taxpayers and could not be transferred without a public vote.
Crush disagreed. He ruled that the city over the years had transferred control and responsibility for the hospital to the university. Moreover, Crush said, the city never offered guidance as to how the hospital should be run.
Yet the matter is far from settled. Crush has yet to hear evidence that the university's board of trustees violated Ohio law, took municipal property without just compensation and other allegations.
Meanwhile, the hospital last week reached an agreement with the Ohio Nurses Association, the union that represents more than 800 of its registered nurses. The three-year agreement calls for 3.5% annual pay increases. The nurses had threatened to strike in protest of the alliance's benefits package and increased use of unlicensed assistants, among other things.