"Really, what we're looking at is we either build new or we close down," said Matt Gutwein, chief executive officer of the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, which operates Wishard Memorial Hospital. "For the future, renovation is not an option for us to be able to meet the needs of the community."Let me begin by saying the first order of business should be to cancel this November special election and push it back six months to the 2010 primary election. This will save Marion County taxpayers more than a $1 million. The legislature, in typical form, mandated this special election and left it to our City-County Council to appropriate the funds to pay for it. It matters not whether HHC or the county general fund pays for it, it's all taxpayer money. This will allow for a long, thought out public process that HHC officials are trying to deny Marion County voters.
So Wishard plans to ask Marion County voters Nov. 3 for the right to borrow $604 million to $703 million -- calculating best- and worse-case scenarios -- over 30 years to finance a new hospital complex. Gutwein said the most likely debt level is $613 million, according to calculations.
The 1.2 million-square-foot facility on the west side of the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis would include an 11-floor hospital with about 300 inpatient beds, as well as outpatient facilities and administrative offices.
Gutwein said the more efficient new hospital would allow Wishard to treat roughly 20 percent more patients annually with about the same number of inpatient beds.
It is not uncommon for our major systems to fail. We have water leaks. Or steam pipes burst," Gutwein said. "Unfortunately, it's become routine."
"Inevitably, those major systems will completely fail. When that happens, we do not have the ability to replace those systems."
Health and Hospital Corp. plans to tap several sources of funding for the project.
It has set aside about $150 million in cash for a new hospital.
The Wishard Foundation wants to raise about $50 million over the next five years.
Health and Hospital Corp.'s surpluses also can be used to pay down debt. The company is projecting a surplus of about $55 million for 2009.
"We are completely committed to no tax increases," Gutwein said. "You should only seek a tax increase if that's your last alternative, and we have other alternatives."
Property taxes now supply about $24.9 million -- or about 5.4 percent -- of Wishard's $486 million in revenue.
If the referendum is approved by Marion County voters, the new Wishard complex could be completed by late 2013, according to Gutwein.
Secondly, it's disappointing in reading Dan Lee's story in the Star today that Mayor Greg Ballard has automatically agreed to go along with the advice he has been given by Bob Grand and Joe Loftus to support the construction of a new hospital. The two represent the HHC, and their law firm stands to make plenty of money in legal fees associated with the new project , but Mayor Ballard has ceded control of the City to the two and does whatever they order him to do. We aren't going to make the same disastrous mistake Ballard made with the CIB bailout. We must demand a long, thorough public debate before any decisions are made whether he likes it or not.
Finally, who decided the only choice is to build a new hospital if the current Wishard Hospital has outlived its usefulness? Marion County has no shortage of hospitals in this county. A hospital building expansion boom has been under way in the region for years. Further, we have a perfectly good hospital sitting vacant on the City's southside. [Update: Make that two vacant hospitals. In addition to St. Francis' vacant hospital on the southside, there is the vacant 317-room Winona Hospital in the 3700 block of North Meridian.] Most of Marion County's indigent population no longer lives near the center of the City; they are dispersed throughout the county. Instead of building one hospital in the center of the City to handle the indigent population, why don't we utilize existing hospitals in the county to treat indigent patients and use existing property tax revenues to compensate them for serving this population. These hospitals are also reimbursed additional "disproportionate share payments" through the federal Medicaid program. It is high time Marion County stopped segregating indigent patients from other publicly-subsidized hospitals that don't want to be bothered with these patients.
Mayor Ballard's statement in the Star story that Wishard Hospital has a "positive economic impact" that "reaches nearly every Indianapolis resident" is absurd. If he wants the hospital to have a positive economic impact, he will look for a way of doing this the most efficient, economical way, while still delivering the same quality of care services our citizens expect to receive from publicly-subsidized hospitals. The City-County Council needs to step up to the plate and provide some leadership on this issue that Mayor Ballard is quite clearly incapable of providing. The idea that this project can be undertaken and funded with existing revenues sources as the proponents suggest is preposterous. Taxes will have to eventually be raised to pay off those bonds and these people know it. They are, true to form, telling outright lies to the public to win approval and putting off the tough decisions to another day.
City-County Councilors should study what happened with the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. A more than $700-million hospital was built and soon faced budget shortfalls approaching a half-billion dollars. Several articles about that hospital's woes can be found here. Note also that Wishard had been running deficits annually as recently as 2005. Today's Star report indicates the HHC has stashed away $150 million for the new hospital! If the HHC has those kinds of cash reserves, why have we been levying new property taxes annually on Marion Co. taxpayers?