Rice Memorial Hospital asks city to increase term lengths for board members

WILLMAR -- It can take months for new members of the Rice Memorial Hospital Board to learn the ropes and begin to understand the financial, clinical and regulatory complexities of the hospital industry.

WILLMAR -- It can take months for new members of the Rice Memorial Hospital Board to learn the ropes and begin to understand the financial, clinical and regulatory complexities of the hospital industry.

But by the time new board members can start to reap this knowledge, their term of office usually is drawing to an end.

The current hospital board wants to change this -- and is requesting the city to amend the charter so longer terms on the board can be allowed.

Verna Kelly, president of the board, calls it a matter of value.

"We're not getting the benefit of that education for a very long time," she said.


Lorry Massa, CEO of the city-owned hospital, said it's not a new issue.

"We've been talking about this for a number of years," he said.

Hospital board members, who are appointed by the mayor, currently can serve no more than two terms of three years each.

A resolution, adopted last week by the board, calls on the city to change this to three terms of three years apiece.

This would allow Rice Hospital board members to serve up to nine years, instead of being limited to a maximum of six years.

The resolution also asks that partial terms not be applied to the term limits.

Currently, anyone who fills two years or more of an unexpired term is considered to have served a full term.

"We think there's a learning curve that's pretty steep for new board members coming on," Massa said.


Often it can take at least two years for board members to start becoming familiar with Rice Hospital, the hospital industry and critical issues such as the budget process, finances, new technology, care delivery, the regional health care market and even basic health care terminology, he said.

Board members are responsible for making key decisions for one of the city's most significant business entities. Rice Hospital has gross annual billings of more than $140 million and employs 1,000 people at the hospital and at a hospital-owned long-term care center and durable medical equipment retailer. The hospital co-owns the Lakeland Health Center medical office building and is a joint owner of the outpatient Willmar Surgery Center.

Training is available for both rookie and experienced hospital board members, but it's often expensive, Massa said.

"There becomes a point of diminishing returns," he said. "There's only a three-year window left that they can use that new-found knowledge to benefit the hospital."

A measure being considered by the Minnesota Hospital Association gives added urgency to raising the Rice Hospital board term limits.

The state hospital industry group has proposed a certification program for hospital board members in Minnesota. Certification would help ensure that hospital trustees are trained in hospital governance best practices and that trustees receive continuing education.

The hospital association is in the process of collecting comments from hospital CEOs across the state. Adoption of a trustee certification program could occur as soon as in January.

It would set minimum standards for trustee education, Kelly explained.


"Board education has become a significant factor throughout the state," she said. "The feeling is strong that this would be beneficial to hospitals because of their complexity."

It's not clear what steps will need to be taken for the Willmar city charter to be amended.

Hospital officials said the city attorney has been asked to research whether an amendment can be made by a unanimous vote of the Willmar City Council. It's also possible that a charter commission would have to be convened.

It has been more than 15 years since the city charter, which contains the bylaws and structure for city government, was last reviewed.

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