Healthcare Task Force opts for consultant

The Healthcare Task Force is warily moving forward with Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s proposal to hire a consultant on rural health care.

After the mayor introduced a borough-wide plan to unite the peninsula’s three hospitals under a single entity, the task force was presented with an aggressive timeline for coming up with a firm plan and strategy to do so in time for the October 2016 election. The mayor admitted Wednesday during the task force meeting that the timeline was too aggressive and suggested pushing it back to either a special election in 2017 or the regular election in October 2017.

In the meantime, the task force is progressing with a plan to hire a rural health care consultant from the Portland, Maine-based consulting firm Stroudwater Associates.

“They are recognized as health care consultants that are reasonably priced,” Navarre said. “We were going to look toward maybe putting out an (request for proposal), and we told them we actually wanted them here for the Dec. 16 meeting. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for (a request for proposal), and we thought we could get to an informal process.”

Two hospitals in the borough have used the firm before for strategic planning. Central Peninsula Hospital CEO Rick Davis and South Peninsula Hospital CEO Robert Letson both said at the meeting that they were impressed with the firm’s expertise on rural health care issues.

Navarre estimated that the consultant service would cost between $70,000 and $100,000. The reason the borough is not sending it to a request for proposal, the usual procedure for obtaining bids for the least expensive service, is that the request for proposal process takes time and the borough has worked with Stroudwater before.

If everything goes as planned, the consultant will examine the hospital’s financials as well as the health care resources in the borough and provide a report with suggestions of what the best approach to reducing the cost of health care would be, Navarre said.

Several members of the task force raised questions about whether there are other options on the table than pursuing the combination of the service areas.

Task force member and borough assembly president Blaine Gilman said several members of the assembly had asked whether selling the hospitals was still on the table for discussion.

The mayor said he did not want to consider reopening the conversation about selling the hospitals at this time.

“One of the things I’m personally concerned with is that somewhere in these steps and things, the discussions about reducing the cost of health care to citizens, to borough employees, to school district employees, are made,” Gilman said. “The assembly said, ‘Here’s $200,000,’ but we’d like to see how we can at least stop the increase if not decrease the cost of health care without losing the quality. We would like some feedback from the consultant on that.”

Task force member and assembly representative Kelly Cooper said the consultant should look at the hospitals comprehensively and present opinions on all the options, not just the consolidation of the service areas.

Cooper, who represents Homer, has expressed concerns about the effects on South Peninsula Hospital if the service areas are combined.

Clyde Boyer, a Homer resident and current member of the South Peninsula Hospital Area Board, testified at the meeting about concerns in the community about the hospital service areas being merged. He said some consolidation could work and make the two hospitals more efficient but raised questions about the independence of the two hospitals.

“I am concerned … that (consolidating) would have a negative impact on our hospital, slowing down critical decision making,” Boyer said. “I’m also concerned that if Central Peninsula Hospital should decide at some point that it should like to be sold to some other company and our hospital would not like to do so, how would the knot be unwound? We would not then have a full board of directors to take over the decision making.”

Navarre said the consultant will provide a full picture of what the borough should do to make health care more affordable and accessible.

The assembly, which approved a $200,000 initial budget for the task force, will have to ratify the use of those funds. The task force voted to send the request to the assembly for its Dec. 8 meeting.

The task force will not meet in December because there is little on the agenda; instead, it will convene again in January to discuss potential future direction and meet with the consultant.

The report should be finished by February, said Angela Ramponi, the mayor’s special assistant on health care.

“(At) the January meeting, they would be coming up, mostly information gathering,” Ramponi said. “At the February meeting, they would be presenting their findings and facilitating and ongoing conversation.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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