A Return on Public Investment?
We, the public, invest our money in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s compulsory, like taxes, and sometimes it’s voluntary, like donations to a worthy cause.
Over 30 years ago Missoulians supported the creation of a not-for-profit hospital, Community Medical Center. Now that investment has garnered a serious return:
Community Medical Center in Missoula has reached an agreement to sell its assets to a partnership between Billings Clinic and a hospital management firm for $67.4 million.
The agreement, announced Tuesday, would transform Community Medical from a not-for-profit corporation to a for-profit hospital and must be approved by the attorney general’s office.
Under the Montana Non-Profit Corporation Act, the proceeds from the sale must be used for similar public benefit, hospital spokeswoman Mary Windecker said. The hospital is still working on the specifics, but Windecker said the money will be used on a long-term basis to benefit health care programs in western Montana. The AG’s office also must approve the way the hospital plans to use the proceeds.
That is a big chunk of change. For a little background on how this hospital was built, this article from last week’s Indy provides some context:
Margie Hendricks sits at a table in the Missoula Public Library and sifts through stacks of documents labeled with slender green, pink and blue sticky notes. Each note is dated in the 75-year-old Hendricks’ tidy cursive to mark milestones in Community Medical Center’s history.
“Don’t let it intimidate you. It’s just stuff,” Hendricks says, as she shuffles through the hospital’s 1976 articles of incorporation and letters from the 1950s detailing how Community acquired its 40-acre parcel at Fort Missoula by way of the county from the federal government.
In the months leading up to the impending sale of Missoula’s Community Medical Center, Hendricks, a soft-spoken mother of six, has spent days digging through the hospital’s founding and guiding documents. She’s trying to understand how a nonprofit entity built by local donations and taxpayer-supported bonds could be converted into a for-profit operation benefiting out-of-state investors. She’s especially troubled by the fact that Community has yet to invite any public discussion of the deal.
“Citizens have contributed to this nonprofit entity for years,” Hendricks says. “They didn’t even give us an opportunity to know.”
In March, Community Medical Center’s Board of Directors announced its intention to sell the local nonprofit hospital to Billings Clinic and the for-profit RegionalCare Hospital Partners of Brentwood, Tenn. RegionalCare is funded by global private equity firm Warburg Pincus. According to the firm’s website, it has invested $50 billion in 35 countries since 1966. Warburg Pincus employs former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and has committed $300 million to RegionalCare, which owns eight hospitals nationwide.
No, the public didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the sale of this community asset. Hopefully that won’t be the case when it comes to deciding how that 67.4 million dollars can be used to benefit the community that worked so hard to build this valuable asset.
While the money-making side of our disastrous health care system continues looking for lucrative pools of resources to privatize and exploit, Missoula locals tried to raise a little money for Donny Morey, a bartender at Flippers recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It’s pathetic the alleged richest country on earth refuses to provide universal health care coverage for its citizens. Despite the generosity of Flippers patrons, I seriously doubt they raised even a fraction of what it will cost Donnie to get the treatment he needs.
While medical costs and services evolve, public investment in the old saw mill district has some wondering why the private sector still won’t sit and order from the table we, the public, spent around 12 million dollars setting for them:
The city of Missoula has spent more than $12 million of public money in the Old Sawmill District, according to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
So far, though, private construction on the former industrial property on the edge of downtown amounts to $0.
“Obviously, we had hoped that there would be private development coming out of the ground by now, and thus far, that hasn’t happened,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the MRA.
Behind the scenes, however, an estimated $75 million in private development is in “some stage of discussion or letter of intent” for the 45 acres, according to developer Ed Wetherbee. He said the first condominium project, called Polley’s Square, already counts eight reservations.
As long as there is some low-income window-dressing thrown into the mix, this publicly-paved road to private development should work out just fine. Eventually this land will be developed and hopefully new streams of tax revenue will make this deal beneficial to its prime investors—you and me.