The Grant County Commission may vote soon on what may be the biggest decision the commission has made in our lifetimes: To sell or not to sell our community hospital - Gila Regional Medical Center.
There are no easy solutions to GRMC’s lingering financial problems and while the decision to remain independent does not come without risk, I have publically stated that I don’t support the sale of the hospital and will vote for GRMC to remain independently owned.
A lot has changed since we began asking serious questions about the financial condition of the county owned hospital. Then, Gila Regional seemed headed for almost certain bankruptcy, having lost $22M in six years; including the loss of over $6 million in fiscal 2017 alone. The commission had every right and even the responsibility to ask questions and demand transparency. Gila Regional was suffering financially from mistakes of prior administrations - what new GRMC Chief Financial Officer Richard Stokes calls “A Self-inflicted wound."
The final blow was the decision last year to change provider of services at the Cancer Center with no transition plan in place, resulting in the cancer center effectively closing down for an extended time; a decision with a human and financial toll from which some in the community and GRMC have still not fully recovered.
What has since changed? Accountability and Transparency as requested by County Commission from the Board of Trustees and GRMC administration seems now to be sufficiently forthcoming. Monthly reporting to the Commission by GRMC administration is now providing significantly more detailed information than before and administration is now able to provide the Trustees with the information they need to provide successful oversight. On April 12, the commission was presented with a sound strategic financial plan from GRMC administration and trustees. This plan, if wisely implemented will result in a turnaround from average annual losses of over $3M into gains of $7M or more, providing capital for deferred maintenance and other necessary expenditures at GRMC. If the turnaround materializes, it will demonstrate the current management’s ability to sustainably operate the hospital, and the resulting stability will open opportunities to raise additional capital, grow services, and increase market share.
Trustees, Administrators, and local physicians have thanked the commission for our actions which brought attention to the urgency of the financial problems at GRMC. The trustees are working long hard hours without pay to bring big changes to GRMC. I will never agree with the cancer center decision because of the way it was executed without a transition, but selling the hospital is not an appropriate or necessary solution. The public expects the trustees and the commissioners to work together toward a better hospital for the community, and the two groups have started this process.
A few reasons (not all) why I am opposed to the sale of Gila Regional Medical Center?
1. Once we go down this road we can never come back. Our community owned hospital (with any chance of local control) will be gone forever.
2. GRMC is a 4 Star Hospital, Leapfrog “A” rating, and ranked in the top 100 rural hospitals in the US.
3. The sale is overwhelmingly opposed by citizens, physicians, GRMC employees, trustees and administration. The task force and the review panel set up by the county, including 5 area physicians, have mostly voiced their desire for GRMC to remain independent.
4. Gila Regional Medical Center (under new management) has already began a financial turnaround. While GRMC is still losing money, losses for the fiscal year ended June 30 were (roughly) only 8% of the previous year’s losses.
5. GRMC has presented an excellent, detailed, long term strategic financial plan that should not only allow GRMC to avoid bankruptcy, but even to thrive financially. We need to give this plan a chance.
6. Transparency and Accountability are now forthcoming.
7. In my opinion, an acceptable substantial offer from a strong company has not materialized.
8. There is no known plan as to how Grant County will spend the money received from the sale of GRMC.
I’m confident that our community hospital can continue to remain independent as it has for over 80 years. Gila Regional can prosper under the right leadership, but diligent oversight must continue into the future or GRMC will find itself in a bad financial position again at some future date.
I agree with county task force member Dr. Michelle Diaz when she said, – “It’s important in my opinion that we have held the hospital accountable”. Several more physicians and others have also agreed and suggested that diligent oversite must continue.
GRMC still has some serious financial problems and much work is needed to take the hospital from where it is now to where it needs to be. Even though the plan to remain independent is not without risk, GRMC can prosper under the right leadership. Now is not the time to sell.
We can be the commission that saved the hospital – not the commission that sold out and gave up.
Billy Billings, Grant County Commissioner District IV