JEFFERSON CITY A Republican state senator on Thursday introduced legislation that aims to stop any possible sale of North Kansas City Hospital.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Silvey, would allow the hospital’s board of trustees to vote to become an independent, nonprofit corporation. Alternatively, if 5 percent of the city’s registered voters signed a petition calling for the hospital to become a nonprofit, the question would be placed on the ballot.
If the hospital became a nonprofit, it could not be sold or leased to a for-profit entity for 15 years, and even then the sale would be subject to voter approval.
“The public is very passionate about maintaining local control of the hospital and avoiding it becoming for-profit,” said Silvey, a Kansas City Republican.
Rep. Jay Swearingen, a North Kansas City Democrat, plans to file a similar bill in the House. He said the public’s major concern is that a for-profit corporation could buy the hospital and cut services or close the facility.
Last summer, the North Kansas City Council hired a New York investment bank for advice on a possible sale of the hospital. The hospital’s board of trustees sued, arguing that the city doesn’t have the authority to sell the facility.
Even though the hospital was built more than 50 years ago with the help of property tax revenue and city bonds, it has received no funds from the city for decades, and North Kansas City doesn’t receive funds from the hospital.
The city’s involvement has generally been limited to appointing the board of trustees.
City Administrator Matt Shatto said state law is clear that the city owns the hospital and has the right to explore all options.
In a statement released Thursday, the City Council called on the hospital board to drop its lawsuit and “bring to an immediate end their repeated obstruction of the city’s attempts to protect the future of the North Kansas City Hospital.”
Shatto said that no sale is imminent and that no ongoing work has been conducted pertaining to a sale since the board of trustees’ lawsuit was filed last year.
The hospital’s leadership has repeatedly refused to provide basic operating information and plans to the city, Shatto said. A challenging economy and the pressures of health care reform prompted the request, he said, which has been greeted with litigation and the spread of “misinformation about the city’s intentions.”
“We simply want an independent evaluation of the hospital to ensure it’s in the best place it can be moving forward,” Shatto said. “(Hospital leaders) continue to say no.”
A representative of the hospital was not available for comment.
Adding fuel to the controversy is a plan announced Thursday by the council to add several members to the hospital’s board of trustees. The hope, Shatto said, is that the new members will foster a “more rational, thoughtful, objective evaluation of the hospital’s future.”
Swearingen said the city’s move raises suspicion.
He met with city officials, he said, and was assured the point of selling the hospital was not to turn a profit or alleviate any city budget shortfalls, but rather to “get (the city) out of the health care industry.”
And that’s what the legislation would do, Swearingen said.
“I feel like this bill answers everyone’s concerns — the hospital, the city and the residents,” he said. “But the day (the city) saw our bill was filed, they decided to pack the hospital board. I think that shows they are disingenuous.”
Shatto declined to comment on Swearingen’s accusation.
“This issue has never been and will never be anything about budget gaps,” he said. “It’s about doing an independent, fair review of the hospital’s ability to survive in a world that hospitals around the country are seeing as threatening and concerning.”