Consumer pays for hospital’s mismanagement

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The main entrance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. (Matt Baldwin/Daily Inter Lake)

I still am having difficulty resolving the issues surrounding Kalispell Regional Healthcare so amply illuminated this past year. The signs of mismanagement were clearly evident for many years as I observed during my time on the board (with nearly 7,000 health-care members) of the Flathead Business and Industry Association — overbuilding, poor business decisions and, in my opinion, Velinda Stevens’ quest to build an empire without regard to cost, to name a few.

Although the FBIA brought up a variety of issues, they were ignored because of the power, money and influence of KRH throughout the community. This travesty culminated in a fine of $25 million, which ultimately only punishes us, the consumer and no one else. This debacle shows the need of two things: a strong business organization which can stand up to monopolies like KRH and a new type of governing body to replace a complicit Board of Directors.

The FBIA was an organization of businesses which was involved in helping shape our community and guide our political entities in Flathead County in positive directions. Unfortunately due to lack of leadership, it was allowed to slip into inactivity and finally disappeared under the presidency of Rich Dejana. It should be resurrected.

The underhanded and bully tactics of Stevens were not unnoticed by the FBIA which tried a number of times to corral her into discussions of meaningful alternative ways of approaching health care in Northwest Montana. We prophetically questioned her buyout of the Flathead outpatient surgery center. As well we opposed her quest to eliminate any private non-affiliated doctor’s offices, surgical centers or other medical facilities not under her control. After a detailed investigation we also opposed her quest to establish a full heart center in Kalispell as studies showed there was not enough clientele to justify it without compromising all emergency heart care in Northwest Montana.

The FBIA’s main concern was cost — not to the hospital but to the ultimate payer, the average citizen in and around the Flathead Valley. But the ever-increasing premiums being paid by the consumer were not on her radar nor that of its board of directors. It was all about growth and being the ultimate health-care monopoly in Northwest Montana. To that end, she spread huge amounts of money all around the valley. Banks made money as did contractors, building supply companies, her doctors and anyone else connected to the hospital and on the right side of its CEO.

Left out of the equation was (and still is to a great extent), the average consumer.

To accomplish her goal, I believe Velinda played a hard game: rewarding her friends and punishing those who opposed her. To get doctors and surgeons to comply she merely hired her own, paying them lavish salaries even though they could not be justified by the customer base. Other tactics were even more outside of the box. After all when you don’t care what the consumer has to pay and when you can set your own rates, money and cost are not a concern. With that money and the power it gave her she ran over the protests of the FBIA, the holdout medical facilities and ultimately the consumers of Flathead Valley and surrounding areas.

But now, to add insult to injury, we have the governmental inquiry with the resultant fine of $25 million tacitly levied against the hospital but which will ultimately be paid by us, the consumer. We, the innocent bystanders, will end up footing the bill.

The hospital tacitly protested the findings but “reluctantly” decided to pay the fine. And why not? Did any of the executive officers suffer any monetary damage? No. How about the Board of Directors? Of course not. How about any of the businesses that made so much money off of Velinda and her schemes? It is to laugh.

It’s easy to settle a complaint and resultant fine if no one (but the consumer) is injured. And where does that $25 million go? Into some black hole of the governmental bureaucracy to be used for who knows what. In my opinion, it should go back to the ones injured by Velinda’s mismanagement — us the consumer.

Fortunately, there is a silver cloud in all this chicanery: The service and professionality of the average doctor, nurse and other health care professionals has continued unabated. In my experience, I have received nothing but the best from all these professionals and other employees who are, now, as much a victim of these poor management practices as anyone which recent layoffs so amply demonstrate. My hat is off to them for all their hard work through these trying times.

This debacle clearly outlines things that should be done to ensure this situation does not occur again.

First of all, the business community should reorganize into an association where they can provide some common-sense business metrics for discussion within the health-care (and governmental) community.

Secondly, we should oppose the expansion of the hospital’s pediatric center which is overbuilding not needed at the present time.

Third, we should tell the hospital to stop expanding for the sake of expansion. It’s nice to have but we just can’t afford it.

Fourth, make the whistleblower’s data public.

Fifth, we should insist on a different form of governance for the hospital. The board of directors should be turned into an advisory committee which, in reality, is all it really is. I suggest since our state allows hospitals to be monopolies, rates should be determined by the Public Service Commission, just as they do with our power providers.

Finally, we should insist the fine be returned to us the consumer in some form or another. With the correct things in place, we should have adequate safeguards against a similar situation occurring in the future and, hopefully, a more responsive hospital management team to the needs and concerns of our community.

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— Mark Agather, Kalispell

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