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Ballot question could lead to Estes hospital affiliation

ESTES PARK – Taking a major step in its drive toward affiliation with a larger health care network, Estes Park Health’s board of directors on Thursday voted unanimously to ask voters in its taxing district to approve a ballot measure allowing the board to enter into a multiple-year financial obligation that would be part of any affiliation agreement.

The ballot measure, which would be decided May 2 by voters in the Park Hospital District, is necessary under Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights, even though the issue itself would not raise taxes.

Estes Park Health has been in discussions with other health care organizations about affiliation, driven by the increasing demands of economic and market forces on smaller hospitals.

“We believe increased affiliation with a larger health care organization will occur at some point

in the future,” said board chairman David Batey. “Estes Park Health leadership is taking an active role in negotiating a future affiliation that accomplishes our goals. We remain committed to providing excellent health care services that will address our community’s health care needs for years into the future.”

In outlining the plan, Batey pointed to the agreement between UCHealth and Intermountain Healthcare in January to form a clinically integrated network as an example of the types of pacts hospitals are forming to meet this era’s economic realities.

“The board has worked hard on this,” said board member Diane Muno. “This was the way to go.”

In a PowerPoint presentation to the board, Batey noted that “nearly 30% of rural hospitals are at risk of near-future closing due to persistent financial losses on patient services and low financial resources. Nearly 10% are at immediate risk of closing due to inadequate revenues to cover expenses and very low financial reserves.” He also cited the increasing influence of “narrow payor networks” in which “health care provider payments become increasingly dependent upon being a member of a specific payor network,” as well as “significant and increasing capital requirements required to stay current with evolving medical technology.”

Batey had told the board at its January meeting that more than 200 rural hospitals similar to Estes Park Health were at immediate risk of closing because of inadequate revenues to cover expenses and very low financial reserves. However, he said then, EPH had 133.5 days worth of cash on hand at the end of November and wasn’t one of those at-risk facilities.

The goals for future affiliation, according to Thursday’s presentation, would include ensuring that the community’s health care needs will be addressed now and years into the future, and putting “reliable, excellent quality referral networks in place to provide excellent health care services EPH does not provide.”

The ballot language states: “Without imposing any new tax or increasing any tax rate, shall Park Hospital District, doing business as Estes Park Health, be authorized to enter into one or more agreements, constituting a multiple fiscal-year financial obligation within the meaning of Article X, Section 20(4)(b) of the Colorado Constitution, with one or more nonprofit health care providers concerning the ownership, operation and maintenance of all or any portion of the district’s hospital and other health care and related facilities and assets, including the lease or other conveyance from the district of real and personal property, and to pledge all or any portion of the district’s revenues pursuant to such agreements?”

The section of the state constitution mentioned in the ballot language is the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, passed by Colorado voters in 1992. The election was set for May, Batey said, because under TABOR’s provisions, the next opportunity would be Nov. 7 this year or Nov. 5 in 2024.

Voters in the hospital’s taxing district also will choose members of Estes Park Health’s board of directors on May 2. Six people are running for three seats on the board. Incumbent board members Steve Alper and Bill Pinkham are running for re-election. Other self-nominated people seeking one of the four-year terms include Cory Workman, John Meissner, Todd Nardi and Brigitte Foust.

The Park Hospital District was established in 1968. Estes Park Health was founded in 1975 as Elizabeth Knutsson Memorial Hospital.

Source: BizWest