Hospital forum raises issue of accountability | AspenTimes.com

Hospital forum raises issue of accountability

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Five challengers and three incumbents faced off over accountability and the future of hospital services Wednesday evening at a forum for the upcoming hospital district election.

The eight candidates are running for three seats on the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors.

Although questions from forum moderators began with proposed plans for the hospital’s future, audience inquiries took on a more pointed tone. Some asked about publicizing the hospital’s annual audit. Others asked why there is such a large pool of candidates for the May 7 election.

Challengers Dr. Ann Mass and Elaine Gerson said they hope to bring new skills to the board of directors, while challengers John Sarpa, John Jellinek and even incumbent Tom Griffiths mentioned a public sentiment for a change on the board.

Candidates voiced diverse options for the future of the hospital, noting the local aging population, and how to expand service to accommodate older people. Incumbent Meg Haynes recommended expanding physical therapy and outpatient care, and Gerson, a registered nurse, mentioned looking into a disease management organization at the hospital to handle coronary heart disease and heart failure.

A long list of potential improvements for the increasingly out-patient hospital was discussed by candidates, including improving patient flow and expanding units such as obstetrics, surgery, physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation. Incumbents noted a remodel plan that has been in the works for over a year.

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Candidates were also asked to consider the pluses and minuses of the hospital’s financial issues, such as the potential of becoming a not-for-profit hospital, expanding the hospital district to increase tax revenue and the future of the mill levy in the district.

Griffiths said the mill levy is needed to pay for some hospital services that do not pay for themselves. And challengers Gerson and Jellinek said the hospital’s current public status keeps the operation accountable to the public.

The three incumbents, Griffiths, Haynes and Chuck Torinus, are running together after being elected as a group eight years ago. Each spoke on the value of their combined experience, continuity and dedication.

“There are three candidates in the office who have demonstrated their dedication and capabilities,” Torinus said during his closing statement. “Some of our goals are unfulfilled, and over the next four years we want to complete our responsibilities.”

The trio also voiced support for the board’s recent well-publicized decision banning vaginal births after caesarean sections, although they also expressed interest in following up the decision with ongoing research into the procedure.

“We will continue to look and see if there is a way we could provide that service to moms and their babies,” Griffiths said.

One challenger, Mass, also voiced her opinion about the VBAC decision, saying she “has some concern with how the decision was handled.” Mass, who says she keeps an “academically oriented” practice in medicine, recommended an outside panel of university-based physicians to look at AVH procedures and make a recommendation on the topic.

On the topic of this year’s numerous challengers, Dr. Eric Willsky expressed an interest in term limits, saying limits are a good way to turn over the board and to present fresh ideas routinely. Sarpa noted that re-electing the incumbents is a four-year commitment, and that “something needs to change.”

Anyone who is registered to vote and who has been a resident of the district for over 30 days or owns property is eligible to vote in the May 7 election. The district includes all of Pitkin County with the exception of precinct 13, which is located in Redstone.

The forum will air on GrassRoots TV channel 12 six times in the next few days: today at noon, Friday at 9:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

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