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If you had $74 million ... 

If voters approve the lease of Memorial Health System later this year, city leaders expect to receive at least $74 million up front, plus another $5.6 million annually for 30 years, from University of Colorado Health. And several City Councilors say they want the community to help decide how to spend the jackpot.

But it doesn't look that way.

A six-member panel that's been working for about six weeks will unveil its recommendation to Council on Wednesday, May 16, having not held a single public meeting. The panel was set up by the city's negotiating team, which consists of City Attorney Chris Melcher and consulting attorney James Wiehl of St. Louis; Councilors Merv Bennett and Brandy Williams serve as liaisons to the rest of Council.

"The negotiating team established an ad hoc committee to help the team formulate a recommendation to Council on where to place and administer the funds from the hospital transfer," Council liaison Aimee Cox writes in an e-mail. "This committee is not a formally constituted body (not appointed by Council) and therefore, is not subject to the open meetings law."

Although Cox also notes that Council "values transparency," the committee members — Bennett, Williams, bank executive Steve Helbing, former Councilman Randy Purvis and businessmen Jon Medved and Phil Lane — have been meeting in private.

Evolving definitions

It's not like the city has latitude. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has said the money from a lease that covers more than 50 percent of the nonprofit's assets must go to a foundation "which reflects the historical charitable purposes of Memorial Hospital."

Health care, in other words.

But already, Council members want to broaden what that means. Here's how three of them describe their ideas for the money:

• Jan Martin: "I think it's important to remember these dollars were generated by health care in our community, and I wouldn't mind seeing them used for health and wellness. It could be broad. It could include parks and trails to promote wellness in Colorado Springs."

• Tim Leigh: "Health and well-being are a couple of key words. The question that needs to be fleshed out is what do health and well-being mean. It should be broad enough so it wouldn't be limited to indigent care at the hospital. It might mean some allocation to parks, because that's health and well-being."

• Bernie Herpin: "I would like to see the funds go to something like maintaining our parks, youth sports programs, adult sports programs that are an important part of our city, but when we have budget cuts, they're the first to get cut."

Bennett wouldn't discuss the matter, saying in an e-mail last week, "The Memorial Negotiating Team is currently working on this issue. They plan to bring a presentation to City Council next week. Until that time, this discussion is considered attorney-client privilege."

Last week, the city announced a special Council meeting would follow the May 16 Utilities Board meeting "to set the election calendar for the Memorial Health System lease vote followed by a closed executive session to discuss legal issues involving both Memorial Health System and potential litigation matters."

So much for transparency.

Gardens and greenhouses?

However the function of a new foundation is defined, it will have to meet state Attorney General John Suthers' approval, because the Colorado Hospital Transfer Act requires the Attorney General's Office to review the lease to assure it's in the public interest.

Roughly 200 health foundations nationwide have been created following the sale, merger or transfer of assets of nonprofit health organizations, reports Grantmakers in Health, a Washington, D.C.-based philanthropy organization.

In its most recent national survey, which compiled data through 2008, 155 foundations took part and claimed assets from $2.4 million to $3.5 billion. Assets of five Colorado foundations cited in the study — four in Denver and one in Arvada — totaled $1.675 billion.

Some of those foundations are guided by wide-ranging mission statements.

"To improve the health and health care of Coloradans by increasing access to quality health care and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices" is the mission of the Colorado Health Foundation, which reported $1.26 billion in assets in 2010, the most recent figure available. The foundation has bought playground equipment for schools, helped build a garden and greenhouse in Las Animas, and pays for doctors' medical training.

Community First Foundation, which reported $53.4 million in assets as of 2010, began in 1975 as the Lutheran Medical Center Foundation. It has since defined health like this: "aesthetic, economic, educational, emotional, environmental, occupational, physical, social and spiritual."

All the talk about a foundation created with Memorial's money raises the question of what will happen to the existing Memorial Health System Foundation, which reported $4.4 million as of March. Established in 2001, the foundation's sole purpose is to support Memorial.

"How that will change if Memorial is under different authority is the question," says Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome, who expects voters to address that "if" in a special election Aug. 28. "Where does the money go? Is it organized the same way? These are interesting questions, but I don't know the answers."

UCH's bid doesn't include Memorial's foundation in an organizational chart, though its own foundation and that of partner Poudre Valley Health System are included. Its only reference to Memorial's foundation is a statement saying "it will be important to seek partnerships" with numerous organizations, including the foundation.

zubeck@csindy.com

  • A secret group leads the way in hashing out ideas for anticipated Memorial up-front money.

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