‘Balanced’ Schumacher selected for AVH board | AspenTimes.com

‘Balanced’ Schumacher selected for AVH board

Eben Harrell
Attorney Lee Schumacher has been appointed to a vacated seat on the Aspen Valley Hospital board. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Justice. She stands blind, a scale in her hand. “Balance,” she preaches without speaking. Lee Schumacher, attorney at law, keeps a statue of her in his office, just in case he ever forgets.When Schumacher was chosen to replace the resigning Elaine Gerson on the Aspen Valley Hospital board of trustees last week, the decision surprised many. Schumacher, who moved to Aspen in 1980, provides counsel for AVH physicians. For 25 years, he’s sat across the table from hospital executives and hammered out contract negotiations for local doctors.So why would the board, with the entire community from which to choose, select Schumacher to join their ranks? And why would he switch teams?”I think I have gained a reputation for a balanced thought process,” he said. “I have never taken a very strong adversarial position against the hospital, even in negotiations with them. I want what’s best for this entire community.”

Schumacher joins the five-person board at a critical moment for the hospital. Recently recovered from a billing crisis that nearly forced it into bankruptcy, the institution has begun a strategic planning process, laying out a 20-year plan. Likely at stake is a final decision on whether to build a new hospital, partner with larger health-care institutions and to what extent AVH will try to position itself as a destination hospital for elective surgery. In what direction the board will move on these issues is still up in the air.Ascertaining Schumacher’s views on these key issues is also difficult. While a candidate would likely lay out a platform, Schumacher’s appointment to the board gives him a free pass – for now. He’s an opinionated person, however, and his views will likely become known before his seat is up for election next May, said hospital board President John Sarpa.”We were looking for someone with an intimate understanding of the hospital who could step in and get to business,” Sarpa said. “We are currently discussing how we want to position the hospital for the next 15 to 20 years. He will help shape that, I’m sure.”

On whether the hospital should relocate to a new site, Schumacher remained mum. But he did offer an opinion about the potential benefits of building a “destination” elective surgery clinic to lure patients from across the country to AVH. Orthopedics and plastics are two surgical fields currently being considered.”We’re a destination resort. That would lead to the opinion that a destination clinic might work, or at least it seems so to me,” he said.Schumacher admires what he calls the “business acumen” of the current board, especially Sarpa and treasurer John Jellinek. It was Sarpa and Jellinek, Schumacher said, who first uncovered the hospital’s financial woes.But he also acknowledges that many AVH employees dislike what is perceived to be a brash, businessman-like approach by the trustees. Schumacher said the board must be community-minded, supportive of its physicians and aware that a hospital is worth more than its bottom line.

The key, of course, is balance.”There has to be a balance of competing goals,” he said. “The hospital can’t be treated like any other business, but that doesn’t mean the business side isn’t crucial – without healthy finances we’ll have a Band-Aid station, not a hospital.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com

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