Stephen Hyde lives in a $1.3 million home on a full acre in the posh Broadmoor area — light-years from his poverty-stricken hometown in northern Louisiana, where his mom did social work and his traveling-salesman father died of a heart attack as Hyde was working his way through college.
Since moving here in 1978 from Washington, D.C., the Harvard MBA has kept a low public profile, serving on nonprofit boards (including that of the former St. Francis Hospital), writing books, and building his reputation as a health care consultant. Apart from going to the polls as a unaffiliated voter, he's steered clear of politics.
But recently Hyde, 63, stepped onto a political minefield when he assumed leadership of the 11-member Citizens Commission on Ownership and Governance of Memorial Health System.
The volunteer panel is charged with charting a course for the city-owned enterprise, which managed $542 million in operating revenue in 2009. Ultimately, it will tackle one of Colorado Springs' stickiest and most enduring topics of debate — whether to sell a venture the city bought in 1943 for $76,500 and from which the community reaped $71 million worth of benefits (from indigent care to Medicaid subsidies to wellness programs) in 2008. [Disclosure: Independent business development vice president Jay Patel is a member of the commission.]
It's a debate that resurfaces every 10 years or so, but this time it could lead to a ballot measure.
20 years ago
Almost immediately after fellow members chose Hyde as chair, Hyde's op-ed piece of 20 years ago raised eyebrows. In it, he questioned why the city owned a hospital and whether the millions from a sale could be better used.
"In essence, the city could use the money to do the sorts of things that cities do best," Hyde wrote in the Gazette, "things which do not include competing with private businesses."
You might think such a prejudicial notion would disqualify Hyde from a panel that's already seen two defections due to potential conflicts of interest. Yet Hyde's advocacy for "privatizing" Memorial hasn't drawn much suspicion.
He says he was merely expressing a philosophy, and vows to remain unbiased in leading the commission toward a recommendation due in December.
Vice Mayor Larry Small isn't bothered by Hyde's opinion.
"Even if he still has that bias, he only gets one vote of 11," Small says, adding, "I've had that feeling myself more recently than he has."
Councilor Sean Paige noted the commission won't make policy, but will facilitate a city-wide dialogue that could lead to a ballot measure to sell the hospital or restrict the city's liability for funding Memorial. Now, the hospital gets no local tax dollars.
"The personal prejudices of people going in can be overblown in terms of the overall impact," Paige says. "I have my biases, too. I'm on the record saying we should seriously consider monetizing the asset. Once you study the idea, you might find that isn't such a good idea, or we can't get the funds we think from selling it. Everybody has an opinion. I don't expect those on the commission to be blank slates."
20 years ahead
Hyde grew up in tiny Arcadia, La., graduating as valedictorian in his class of 40. The oldest of three kids, he headed for Michigan State, where he took out student loans and pulled the midnight shift on an Oldsmobile assembly line.
At Harvard, he earned an MBA, again borrowing and working summer jobs. After learning the health care management ropes as a consultant, he landed a job as the federal government's chief HMO financial regulator during the Ford and Carter administrations.
He moved to Colorado Springs because he "always wanted to live in the West," and here he launched Peak Health Care, which he later sold and which ultimately was absorbed into UnitedHealth Group. Since then, he's formed several companies, mostly in health care, and written two books: Prescription Drugs for Half Price or Less in 2006, and Cured! The Insider's Handbook for Health Care Reform, published last year.
Although Hyde is a health care expert (his Web site is hydeonhealthcare.com), in the 1970s he found himself uninsured.
"I paid as I went," he says. "That also was back when doctors told you what their price was. It was reasonable, affordable and wasn't inflated with the expectation insurance companies would knock it down by 60 percent. That's a problem now. You can't find what the price of anything is."
As leader of a pivotal city panel, Hyde will push the commission to bone up on Memorial, and fast. He wants the group to analyze similar models; review balance sheets and income statements; study net worth, debt structure, strengths and weaknesses; and consider types of structure.
He has set an ambitious weekly meeting schedule and will hold "numerous" town-hall gatherings as well — all on a budget. Noting the panel's expenses come out of Memorial's pocket, he says, "It's public money, and I don't want to spend a dime more than what's necessary to do this job."
While the commission will analyze Memorial's value to the community and what type of care it should deliver, he says the panel eventually must decide whether to recommend selling, not selling, or making Memorial an independent entity. Hyde realizes the stakes are huge: "We want 20 years from now people to say, 'Wow. What a great decision.'"