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Memorial's best path 

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The Colorado Springs Independent and many of its readers have long been defenders of Memorial Health System. When people have denounced Memorial for being a potential drag on the taxpayer or called for it to be sold, you've pointed out our contributions to the community and history of success. You understand what it means to provide $70 million a year in uncompensated care, treat soldiers for traumatic brain injuries, and care for southern Colorado's sickest infants and children.

Now, Memorial once again calls on you to defend this community hospital — only this time with a major twist. Memorial wants to change. Memorial wants to become a stand-alone, community-based nonprofit, because we believe it's in the best interest of highest-quality health care and ensuring access for the uninsured and underinsured. We also believe it is time to end this debate once and for all. Instead, let's start something fantastic. Let's build better health care and create an economic engine for Colorado Springs.

In the past year, as the city-appointed Citizens Commission has evaluated Memorial's ownership and governance, many Memorial supporters have said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But this is the first time this conversation has gone beyond "hold or sold" rhetoric, and Memorial believes this third way, a community-based nonprofit, can move health care forward without making compromises.

Why? It ensures we continue to care for all, regardless of the ability to pay. It ensures decision-making stays here, and it ensures all earnings are reinvested here. It helps grow jobs, and it equips Memorial to survive a volatile health care industry.

At the same time, it removes politics from patient care. It removes the taxpayer's risk, which in turn removes Memorial from the ever-present threat of a ballot initiative to hand over the keys to a for-profit or not-for-profit giant. It removes the regulatory burdens that put Memorial on an uneven playing field with its competitors. And it's free.

This is the only option that enables Memorial to remain true to its mission without succumbing to industry pressures plaguing small- and medium-sized hospitals. Other health systems that have made such a conversion — Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins and Carson Tahoe Medical Center in Carson City, Nev. — have seen their quality improve, costs decrease, and jobs grow. Why? Because when the focus is exclusively on patients and not politics or shareholder profits, health care systems thrive. That's good for the patients and the community.

City ownership has long been considered safe. At a time of unprecedented change in our industry, however, it has become a serious risk. David Burik, a national expert on hospital ownership, told the Citizens Commission Memorial is at a "structural disadvantage" under its current ownership. That disadvantage, he went on, can be a game-changer with industry pressures. It can be a tipping point that separates profound winners from profound losers.

Memorial may not seem broke or in need of "fixing," but it is. Seizing this opportunity today, while Memorial is healthy, ensures we're not having this conversation two years from now in desperation. Just as it's best for a patient to change diet and exercise regimen before a heart attack occurs, it's best for Memorial to change its ways and avoid being a casualty of poor foresight.

Some community members have defended city ownership on the grounds that the taxpayers are a safety net if needed. But is tax subsidy realistic in Colorado Springs? If Memorial were ever forced to rely on the taxpayer, I'm convinced it would be sold soon after. The real cost of financial failure under city ownership is the eventual sale to a for-profit.

So, let's go with a model that's least likely to fail. The community-based nonprofit, based on numerous other communities and our own financial projections, is on the most solid foundation to stay healthy financially while still providing the community benefit Memorial offers today.

Complacency has no future. Selling leaves our future to strangers. It's time to say, "Make Memorial better."

Dr. Larry McEvoy is chief executive officer of Memorial Health System.

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