Former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace doesn't like the idea of selling city-owned Memorial Health System, and warned a panel studying the issue to proceed with caution.
"I challenge you, like a physician, to do no harm to the hospital," Makepeace told the Citizens Commission on the Ownership and Governance of Memorial Health System today. "Steps should be taken carefully," she added, noting it's hard to know what the future holds in light of health care reform.
Memorial provides $70 million in community benefits annually, including roughly $20 million in indigent care.
Yet, it's the perpetual political hot potato, Makepeace said, and arguments erupt on a regular basis about whether to sell it.
That debate has happened several times in the last 20 years. Before the new commission was appointed this year, Makepeace empaneled her own Blue Ribbon Commission to study the question in the late 1990s. The recommendation was to keep the hospital.
Makepeace, who now is executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, said the instability created by constant debate can impact the hospital's ability to borrow money, not to mention employee morale.
"Maybe we'll never let it rest," she said.
Makepeace, who served on City Council as a councilor or mayor from 1985 to 2003, said she believes most Springs residents want the city to retain ownership. "It does serve all who come," she said.
However, she questioned whether the policy should be changed to serve all city residents but turn away or charge more for patients who come from elsewhere.
Makepeace urged the commission to find ways to strengthen the hospital, to make it better, not just to decide whether to sell it or keep it or whether a new form of governance is in order.
"How do you make the hospital better serve the citizens of Colorado Springs?" she said.