Hundreds gathered Saturday to fight the possible sale of North Kansas City Hospital.
State Sen. Ryan Silvey and state Rep. Jay Swearingen, whose districts include North Kansas City, said last week they wanted to hear from residents at a Northland town hall meeting after rumblings of opposition.
For 90 minutes they got their answer at a meeting at North Kansas City High School’s auditorium. Most of those who showed up sported hamburger-sized stickers bluntly proclaiming “Don’t Sell Our Hospital.”
More than two dozen people, often to applause, spoke in opposition to a sale. Just one person spoke in support of the idea.
At the end of the meeting, Silvey said he and Swearingen would work to give residents — perhaps through the power of the legislature — a vote on whether to sell the landmark institution.
“It’s pretty clear what the sense of the room is,” he said. “We’re going to make every effort we can to save this thing.”
In June, the North Kansas City Council hired a New York investment bank for advice on a possible sale of the city-owned hospital. The issue has since become mired in the courts. City Administrator Matt Shatto said in a statement last week that, while options are being evaluated, no sale is imminent or inevitable.
City officials have said the challenging economy and the pressures of health care reform prompted a re-evaluation of the hospital’s ownership. But hospital executives say their finances are strong and that the institution is well positioned to remain independent of other health care systems.
The hospital has been a fixture of the community for more than 50 years, and was built with the help of property tax revenue and city bonds. That said, it has not received money from the city for decades.
Likewise, the hospital has not provided revenue to city coffers.
The city’s involvement, hospital executives have said, has generally been limited to appointing the board of trustees.
Several at the town hall meeting said they feared that if a for-profit corporation bought the hospital, cuts in services would follow. They resented the city selling a hospital built with financial pledges from North Kansas City residents along with money raised from car washes and bake sales.
“Cooler heads should prevail,” said Sue Ryan, a North Kansas City resident. “This thing should come to a conclusion quickly.”
And some at the meeting complained the first moves to contemplate a sale were not taken more publicly. In fact, city officials did not confer with the hospital administration before hiring the investment bank.
“It may be legal,” said one resident, “but it’s not right,”
The lone speaker who supported a sale said the city had the right to control its assets.
North Kansas City has run budget deficits in recent years, but city officials have said that didn’t motivate their inquiries about selling the hospital.
Yet many at the Saturday meeting were skeptical that tough city finances weren’t driving the possible sale.
“It would be like selling one of your children,” said Theta Yates of North Kansas City, “to help balance your household budget.”