Boone County residents voiced both concern and optimism Wednesday night during a public meeting to discuss the future management of Boone Hospital Center, especially when considering a partnership between the hospital and MU Health Care.
About 40 Boone County residents spread out across many rows of blue seats at the Activity and Recreation Center to hear what the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees is considering for future management.
Keith Hearle, a consultant for Verite Healthcare Consulting, based out of Alexandria, Virginia, presented the five proposals to the room for comment following the 30-minute presentation.
Boone Hospital Board Trustee Brian Neuner set the tone for comments in his introduction as a discussion, not a debate.
Neuner said that keeping in mind that the health care world is changing, the board would like for Boone Hospital Center to be adaptive and flexible for the changing health care landscape.
The five options include staying with current provider BJC Healthcare, moving to management by St. Luke's Health System, moving to management by Duke LifePoint, partnering with MU Health Care or operating as an independent county hospital.
Boone Hospital has been managed by BJC for over 30 years, and the lease agreement expires in 2020. The trustees have to decide by 2018 whether to stay with BJC or change management.
Many of the public comments centered on the potential partnership between MU Health Care and Boone Hospital Center. Opponents of the option felt the lack of choice could mean lower quality care for Boone County residents.
“Monopolizing health care in Columbia by dropping a different source of health care just doesn’t make sense because then you are going to lower the quality,” Columbia resident Nathan Blount said. “I was a Boone baby, my two brothers were Boone babies and, we were delivered by the former mayor, Bob McDavid.”
To prevent the partnership from being a monopoly, attorney Elias Matsakis said, the Missouri legislature would have to pass a statute setting regulations for the care and pricing, though that did not quell the concerns of watered-down medical care.
But others were more optimistic about the potential partnership. Some of the MU Health Care professionals present at the meeting said that collaboration between the two hospitals could increase the quality of care for patients and make Columbia a medical destination competitive with St. Louis and Kansas City.
Timothy Fete, a pediatrition at with MU Health Care, said that a partnership between Boone Hospital and MU could help the smallest and sickest citizens of mid-Missouri by allowing the hospitals to share expert staff, expensive equipment and better facilities.
While the room was divided on the potential MU Health Care and Boone Hospital Center partnership, most agreed that Duke LifePoint, a for-profit healthcare organization, was not a good option.
“Traditionally, for-profit hospitals have offered only care that brings in money, so that’s elective surgery, that’s high risk cardiology, that’s medical rehab, things that not everybody needs," Blount said. "It’s dropping emergency care, because those are the profit suckers rather than the profit makers."
There were a handful of people advocating for Boone to stay with BJC because it has connections with networks in St. Louis and patients can have pretesting and follow-up appointments in Columbia rather than traveling to St. Louis for specialty care.
Boone County Commissioner Fred Perry, who served on the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees for 14 years, said Boone Hospital is an outlier in the BJC network because Missouri did not expand Medicaid coverage. Perry said for this reason Boone may not be a good fit for BJC’s corporate strategy.
All five Boone Hospital Trustees attended the meeting and answered various questions and provided insight into the things that they are considering.
Some of the important considerations the board members are looking at are the length of lease in each option, the ability for physician partnerships, the ability for more governance in mid-Missouri, the ability to retain employees and a competitive retirement plan for their employees all while being able to provide top health care for mid-Missouri residents.
“Absolutely no decision has been made," Neuner said. "If you hear anything to the contrary that is absolutely false, and you can tell them that you heard it from us.”
After the board hears more comments, it will go into discussion and could decide to call a vote to narrow the field of options.
“Boone Hospital will be 100 years old in 2021 and we would like to make a decision that will keep Boone Hospital around for another hundred years,” Trustee Jerry Kennet said.
There will be a public meeting at 6 p.m. May 25 at the Ashland Public Library. A meeting will be held in Centralia, but a date and time have not been determined. There will also likely be more public meetings held in Columbia.