Tribune Editorial: City Council should approve Carris Health proposal

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The healthcare industry is rapidly changing and full of challenges - new direct and indirect competition, rising costs, recruiting hurdles and growing regulation - across west central Minnesota and this nation.

The region's three major care institutions - Rice Memorial Hospital, Affiliated Community Medical Centers and CentraCare Health System - are currently financially viable, are all health leaders and have strong management. However, the status quo is not sustainable.

This proposal would bring the city-owned hospital and ACMC's regional physician group together in a joint venture under a local administration and board within Carris Health, a nonprofit subsidiary of CentraCare.

The proposed Carris Health plan, if approved, is a win-win-win situation for the city of Willmar, all of the three health entities and their employees, and the residents of central, west central and southwest Minnesota.

The West Central Tribune's Editorial Board believes it is in the best interest of Willmar and its residents for the Willmar City Council to approve this Carris Health proposal.

The city is already served by all three healthcare organizations.

Rice is a Level 3 Trauma hospital based in Willmar, serving a 14-county region with 100 inpatient beds.

ACMC Health is a multi-specialty health network based in Willmar, with over 180 physicians and advanced practice providers in 40 specialty areas in west central and southwest Minnesota

CentraCare Health is an integrated health care system nonprofit based in St. Cloud and operating in central Minnesota, including six hospitals, seven senior care facilities, 18 clinics, four pharmacies and numerous inpatient and outpatient specialty care services.

The three entities share a philosophy of keeping health care local, improving the health of every patient, improving the health of the region's communities and providing quality health care.

Also, the three organizations already know how to work together, as the groups already share or coordinate some systems, specialties and staff.

The changing environment of healthcare - especially cost, revenue, technology and competition factors - is challenging to each organization as well as their customers.

Rice would be leased to Carris Health for 30 years, with automatic renewal for 30 years and an option to purchase after ten years. If a purchase is pursued, a public referendum of Willmar voters must be conducted.

The Carris Health board of directors will consist of four members nominated by Rice Hospital, four nominated by ACMC and two nominated by CentraCare, providing continued local control. Carris Health's board would also have two board members seated on the CentraCare board of directors.

The Rice Memorial Hospital Board will remain intact with oversight responsibility, including input on capital improvements. The board will have enforcement authority over the lease and operating agreement. The Carris Health agreements include a provision to maintain Rice's core services

Rice employees will be hired by Carris Health for their same positions, subject to application and background checks required by health industry regulations. All employees will receive credit for years of service and paid time off. Existing union contracts will be honored.

The hospital will continue to operate as Rice Memorial Hospital and will retain its own nonprofit foundation, the Rice Health Foundation, with its funding remaining focused on the Willmar hospital.

Residents, employees and employers all spend significant dollars to receive and provide health care here in Willmar and the region. The current system here in our rural region will face considerable challenges in the coming years. Health care as we know it may not survive without creative innovation to provide needed services, control costs and adapt to change.

Rice, ACMC and CentraCare's leaders want to create Carris Health to help maintain a sustainable and viable healthcare organization in the region, which will provide the capital needed for critical investment, the necessary capability to meet patient needs, and the structure and tools to enhance both doctor and staff recruitment.

This new health care system will also help reduce the financial liability risk for Willmar taxpayers. The hospital's financial situation in today's environment can be very fluid. Under the current Rice structure, any major loss remains the responsibility of city taxpayers. Under this proposal, Carris Health will assume the Rice liabilities, including the current debt.

The Tribune's Editorial Board believes the Carris Health proposal is a proactive step for the city of Willmar, as well as for Rice, ACMC and CentraCare. The Carris Health concept is a unique, creative and innovative proposal, which will help strengthen healthcare for our regions.