Magic Valley Regional Medical Center wants to cut the red tape.
Every time the county-operated facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, needs to buy a piece of equipment, it endures a Byzantine process requiring votes by a minimum of three committees, followed by a protracted public bidding process.
"What takes a private, not-for-profit corporation two months to accomplish can take us a year," said hospital spokesman Shawn Barigar.
That's among the reasons officials with the 180-bed hospital are moving toward creating a not-for-profit corporation that would lease the hospital from Twin Falls County. A 13-member community advisory board appointed last year by the Twin Falls County Commissioners will present a conversion and lease proposal next week. The county commissioners and the hospital's board are expected to vote on the deal later this year, officials said. The transaction, in essence, would make Magic Valley Regional a private facility that can operate without the strictures encountered by a public hospital.
"The more efficient the hospital can be, the better it will be able to operate," Barigar said.
Magic Valley isn't alone. Memorial Hospital of Sheridan County in northern Wyoming backed down earlier this month from a similar move that would have leased the 60-bed hospital to a not-for-profit corporation after the proposal was greeted by an uproar in the community.
"Our board meetings were sparsely attended and were irregularly covered in the newspaper until this proposal was made," said Memorial hospital Administrator Marvin Goldman. He added that the hospital and county officials still support the idea but will consider moving forward with it at a much slower pace. The Sheridan County Commissioners have asked the county attorney to more thoroughly research the process, but there's no timetable for pursuing conversion, Goldman said.
Although healthcare experts said publicly operated rural hospitals converting to private ownership isn't yet a trend, they did say it makes sense. They noted that the scrutiny a public hospital often endures can all but cripple strategic planning.
"In county hospitals, you can have a couple of layers of governance. In a competitive environment, you have to be able to move with speed and surprise," said John Tiscornia, the Seattle-based director of the national healthcare practice at Andersen.
Both Magic Valley Regional and Memorial Hospital are on solid financial footing. Magic Valley posted net income of $5 million on net patient revenue of $67 million for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2000. Memorial's net income was $2.4 million on revenue of $28.7 million for the fiscal year. But officials with both hospitals say they're missing out on opportunities enjoyed by their privately operated counterparts.
Magic Valley's Barigar said private firms have avoided joint ventures with the hospital over fear that the public bidding process would expose too much of their operations. The hospital is in preliminary negotiations with 312-bed St. Luke's Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, for an affiliation that would expand services-a move that may be helped along by a conversion, he added.
Although Memorial is the only public acute-care facility in Sheridan, Goldman said it loses patients to facilities in Billings, Mont., 130 miles to the north. He added that one of Billings' two hospitals-249-bed Saint Vincent Hospital and Health Center-recently opened a medical practice in Sheridan, suggesting that more inroads would be made.
"We're going to see competition increasing, and we have to plan for it," Goldman said.