Hospital ready to end the debate over annexation
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen Valley Hospital officials hope the debate over its recent annexation into the city was laid to rest after a meeting Tuesday with Pitkin County commissioners – a meeting that ended with a public apology from Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
John Sarpa, president of the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors, and hospital CEO Randy Middlebrook opened yesterday’s discussions with a review of the annexation process. AVH was absorbed into the city’s jurisdiction last month after thorough negotiations between both entities, Sarpa said.
One element of the negotiations, a 15 percent health-care discount for city employees, sparked a recent debate over the annexation. Some Aspen residents feared increased costs for other hospital users; others compared the discount to a bribe on the hospital’s part.
Both rumors are unfounded, Sarpa told commissioners.
The employee discount actually serves as a benefit to the city, he said, as it will offset the high cost of annexation. The cost is estimated by AVH at $30,000 a year, but is $80,000 to $100,000 annually according to city numbers.
And, as the city is self-insured, the discount actually lowers the city’s premiums without lowering what a city worker will pay.
“The employee does not get an advantage out of this,” Sarpa said.
It also helps the hospital lure customers they might lose to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, he said.
“It’s a competitive business. We have another hospital 40 miles away, and people have another choice,” Sarpa said. “This gives the city administrator 10 percent more reason to encourage their people to come to our hospital.”
The deal forged between the city and hospital, which includes a $100,000 pledge from AVH to improve Castle Creek Road, will allow the hospital to expand its facilities, Sarpa said.
“Tomorrow’s health care is what this whole thing is about,” he said.
Commissioners seemed satisfied with Sarpa’s annexation explanation, but questioned the hospital’s stance on the new Community Health Plan. Commissioner Shellie Roy noted that, while some hospital visitors might enjoy the benefits of negotiation, others suffer inferior insurance with high premiums and poor coverage.
Middlebrook said his involvement with the organization of the health plan will lead to changes in that area.
“The [hospital] board has made it a priority for me to get out there and work on exactly what you’re alluding to,” he said.
Tuesday’s joint discussion included an apology from Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who had questioned the fairness of the annexation agreement.
“When I made my comments about fairness, I might not have been aware of all the facts,” Hatfield said.
“I agree that this was a mountain out of a molehill,” Roy continued.
However, the commissioner expressed concerns that the county will have little say in the hospital’s future land-use plans.
Sarpa encouraged the commissioners to call the hospital with their concerns as the annexation process continues.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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