Logan Regional Hospital administrators' attempt to publicly address allegations made by the Cache Mayors Association garnered some public support but did little to appease the association's president.
Hospital administrator Charles E. Doane said some 140 community, business and government leaders were invited to the session at Mount Logan Middle School where hospital officials countered charges by the association that the hospital has engaged in "fraudulent and exorbitant charges and other dishonest practices."Lack of space, he said, prevented the hospital from opening the meeting to the public. However, the school auditorium will seat several hundred people.
The association's mayors received personal invitations but were not given an opportunity to speak - at least during the meeting attended by some 50 persons. Four of the 19 mayors watched while the hospital officials defended their facility.Robert E. Sorenson, chairman of the hospital's board of trustees, said as a board, they have made it a goal to enhance accessibility and quality care to all patrons at the most efficient cost available.
Any charges against medical costs, quality care or the integrity of the health care provided at the hospital are false, he said.
"We categorically deny all charges made by the Cache Mayors Association," Sorenson said. "And to this date, no documented evidence of any of these charges has been presented to the board, no official investigation has been initiated, no official charges are pending, and the charges have been presented to the media without supporting documentation."
However, River Heights Mayor John Stewart said, "I believe that unless the hospital and Intermountain Health Care are willing to make some acknowledgment of wrongdoing and make some corrections that we will see in the not-to-distant future a class-action suit brought against them and/or a grand jury investigation." Stewart is president of the mayors association. IHC owns the hospital.
Sorenson said the hospital has not been allowed to respond to any charges publicly or clarify its position. He said the data requested by the mayors association was not released until Monday because the hospital had not been allowed representation at any previous meeting.
Stewart disputed that.
He told the Deseret News that earlier this week he was told by the hospital administration that the answers to 20 questions requested by the mayors were completed. The association has questioned the hospital's price schedule, treatment of employees, "cost-shifting practice" and tax-exempt status.
Stewart said he expressed his desire for the two groups to meet and discuss answers to the association's questions. He heard nothing more, he said, until he received his invitation to Monday's public meeting.
"I thought it was an excellent tranquilizer session where sedatives were carefully administered, something approaching a lobotomy," Stewart said of statements made by hospital officials Monday night.
Doane says not everyone shares Stewart's displeasure with the hospital. In fact, he said, in talking with employees and other administrators he had received a consensus that they were dismayed by negative allegations made by the mayors. He added that the hospital staff was willing to clear up any misconceptions caused by these allegations and reaffirm the honesty and integrity of the every employee.
Doane admitted that medical costs are expensive and continually rising. But the reasons for those increases are many and complicated, he said. "To fully address the concerns that have been identified will require cooperative efforts of the government, industry, public health care and health-care providers," Doane said.
Addressing questions regarding the hospital's not-for-profit status, Doane said that means the hospital doesn't distribute any earnings to private individuals and has no share holders. He also said they undertake charity projects to benefit the public. As to the issue of "cost-shifting," Doane said that the hospital does not charge different rates based on the ability for reimbursement, but does include in every charge a component to cover the costs of uncompensated care.
"We feel that our responsibility is to take care of patients," he said. "How would we expect to get paid? We have to charge others. We have no other way (at this time) for care for those who come to us to be taken care of."
Doane said the hospital is working on many areas to reduce care costs, but those take time. An increase of out-patient services was one cost-cutter he mentioned.
What's next in continuing controversy between IHC and the Cache Mayors Association? Stewart said he will meet with other officers of the association to determine where to go from here.