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Rice board reaffirms membership in Chamber of Commerce in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR — Citing a host of benefits that come with belonging to the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rice Memorial Hospital Board adopted a resolution Wednesday reauthorizing the city-owned hospital’s membership in the Chamber.

The board’s action stakes out Rice’s position over concerns that have been simmering recently among some Willmar City Council members about public entities joining the Chamber.

One of the questions raised: Is it appropriate for city entities to pay membership fees to a special-interest group? The council also has raised questions about the public purpose of those membership fees and whether they benefit the city as a whole.

The resolution, drafted with the help of the city attorney, is in response to a City Council directive that asked Rice to look at its relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and define the benefits, said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

Among those benefits:

* Recruitment help in the form of tours, interviews and community information packets for prospective health care professionals.

* Support of new initiatives at Rice Hospital. For example, the Chamber endorsed a 2002 bond referendum for a $52 million expansion and renovation at the hospital. The Chamber also has supported projects such as the development of the Rice Regional Dental Center and the establishment of the Southern Minnesota Area Health Education Center’s regional headquarters on the Rice campus.

* Chamber promotion of community health initiatives.

* Provision of direct access to the local business community.

* Inclusion of Rice Hospital in public policy discussions about issues affecting the hospital.

* Leadership training for Rice managers through the Chamber’s Leadership Perspectives program.

Hospital board members were unanimous in their vote Wednesday to reaffirm Rice’s Chamber of Commerce membership.

“The benefits are huge for us,” said board member Jenna Fischer.

One of the greatest benefits has been the Chamber’s help in recruiting health care professionals, she said, noting that the recruitment process includes selling not just a job but the overall community to prospective hires.

Without the assistance, “we would be spending a great deal more resources and money,” she said.

Rice Hospital’s membership fee in the Chamber of Commerce is $5,000 a year and includes the hospital, the Rice Care Center, Rice Home Medical and the Rice Health Foundation.

Other city entities that belong to the Chamber include the Willmar Municipal Utilities and the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The city itself is not a member, although at one time city administrators had a complimentary personal membership.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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