Assembly shoots down service area boundary changes

Medical service areas, and the implications of their boundaries, drew the most debate from Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members during their Tuesday night meeting.

The assembly voted down two ordinances addressing medical service area boundaries. The first sought to expand the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area to include the City of Seldovia and outlying communities including Nanwalek and Port Graham. Assembly Member Sue McClure said when the original service area lines were drawn, there was a hospital in Seldovia. With a hospital no longer there, she said the ordinance would expand the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area to include those residents.

The assembly voted the ordinance down, deciding more information is needed before a decision is made.

The second ordinance, brought forth by Assembly Member Brent Johnson, sought to move the “common boundary” between the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area and the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area. The ordinance would have moved the line 14.5 miles south, closer to the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area.

Johnson said the two service areas were not separated by a midpoint equidistant between them when they were created in 1969. For that reason he says it can be safely assumed some residents living in the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area are paying taxes on a hospital they are not using. Because of their location they are more likely using the Central Peninsula Hospital.

“The people should be taxed according to a service area that makes good sense … and also a hospital that they go to,” Johnson said.

With the boundary line moved, residents in that area would no longer pay taxes for the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area, which would lose around $120,000 said hospital CEO Bob Leston.

During public comment, several residents from Homer joined the meeting telephonically to voice concern that the ordinance was premature, that it would be harmful to the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area and that the Assembly had not given enough time for the full financial impact of the ordinance to be measured.

Assembly members voted this ordinance down, again citing a need for more information from a task force being formed to investigate the matter. Mayor Mike Navarre said the task force has been slow to get up and running.

“History matters in how the service areas are formed, and maybe these lines are somewhat arbitrary,” said Assembly Member Blaine Gilman. “The fact of the matter is that a hospital nonprofit association has relied on this funding source, and to take away $122,000 from this nonprofit right now … I just think that’s too big of a cut in their budget.”

One service area ordinance brought forth by both Navarre and Johnson did pass. The ordinance will expand boundaries of the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area to include a portion of the Cook Inlet stretching along the coast from section 7 to section 34 and west into the water to the Mean High Water of Cook Inlet. Johnson said this change would accommodate oil and gas entities offshore not currently included in the service area. Other members agreed that increased activity offshore due to oil and gas interests necessitated enlarging the service area, should injured people come ashore and need assistance.

The matter will be brought before voters in that service area during the scheduled Oct. 6 election.

Service areas weren’t the only things addressed at Tuesday night’s meeting. The Assembly also passed an ordinance authorizing the Central Peninsula Hospital to buy the Women’s Center of the Peninsula at 254 N. Binkley Street. The business’s presiding physician, Dr. Jo Lynn Hawthorne had previously announced her decision to leave the practice at the end of July, and approached the hospital to see if there was an interest in purchasing it.

Assembly Member Stan Welles voted against the ordinance. He said allowing CPH to purchase the practice could lead to a monopoly on services.

“Why should the borough remain in the health care business by allowing our hospitals to buy out the competition?” Welles asked.

Other assembly members, and Navarre, said the need for OB-GYN services in the area will be too great to ignore after Hawthorne’s departure, as well as the departure of Dr. Nels Anderson on a mission trip. The influx of patients to the hospital necessitates the purchase of the practice, they said.

“The hospital is not buying up the competition,” Navarre said. “This OB-GYN is leaving town and discontinuing her practice … and because she still has patients who will remain here … this is a prudent decision on our part.”

The Assembly appropriated $741,500 for the building purchase.

Assembly members also addressed an ordinance that would have authorized the exchange of land to secure the borough a 0.9 acre drainage outlet easement at mile 12 of Kalifornsky Beach Road. The Assembly voted to postpone the ordinance until its next meeting, though it has been tabled since January and Navarre assured members there were no immediate plans to create drainage in that area.

The Assembly will meet next at 6 p.m. at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration Building on Aug. 18.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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