Sunday, October 18, 2009

More On Wishard Referendum

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (MCANA) for the opposing view on the November 3 special election Wishard referendum. Health & Hospital Corporation CEO Matt Gutwein made a presentation to the group last month. To my knowledge, MCANA is the only community group that has allowed the opposing side an opportunity to be heard. Gutwein has given dozens of presentations over the past few months that have been widely covered. WTHR's Cat Andersen was the only member of the media to show up at yesterday's meeting to get both sides' views. She fairly reports on some of the issues involved:

A special election in November will let voters decide if the city needs a new Wishard Hospital.

Those pushing the plan say it won't cost taxpayers a thing, but opponents say there's no guarantee. Volunteers went door-to-door Saturday, asking Marion County residents to vote "yes" to building the new hospital in the November 3 election.

"We really need a world-class hospital to serve all the citizens of Marion County and, most particularly, those who are underserved, those who desperately need these facilities," said Gary Price with the group Citizens for Wishard.

"It's the stuff behind the walls that's 40, 50, 60 years old," said Tom Ringham, Wishard Associate VP of Facilities.

Employees say it's outdated, the rooms are too small for modern day medical equipment and the infrastructure is crumbling.

"It means that you may wait longer in the emergency department, because we have two or three rooms shut down due to a water leak," Ringham said.

But attorney Gary Welsh warns to be careful what you vote for.

"The referendum language doesn't tell you they're going to use the money to build a new hospital, it doesn't tell you how much money they're going to borrow, it doesn't tell you how much money the hospital is going to cost, it doesn't tell you how they're going to [need to] repay it," he said.

The Health and Hospital Corporation estimates it will need to borrow about $630 million to build a new Wishard. They need voters' permission to take out the loans, because if they can't make the payments, voters will - in higher property taxes.

But they say that won't happen, that the hospital brings in more than enough money to cover the loan payments of $38 million a year.

"We currently have a surplus this year of $51 million," said Dan Sellers, CFO and Treasurer of the Health and Hospital Corporation.

"Who's to say it's not going to cost a billion and a half? Oftentimes, these public works projects balloon out of control," said Welsh. "We saw that with the Central Library project that wound up costing $150 million, the cost of Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Health and Hospital Corporation says it will take 30 years to pay off the loan. Welsh says a lot could happen to the hospital's revenue stream between now and then.

"If we adopt a national health insurance plan where everyone is insured, then people can go to any hospital they want. They don't have to go to a county hospital like Wishard that focuses on providing care to the indigent and uninsured," Welsh said.

"The idea of more people having coverage just brings more people with coverage to us," Sellers said.
MCANA also had Matt Klein of Indianapolis waterworks to speak on behalf of the City's proposed rate increase request of 35%, which was also a very informative presentation. WCTY taped yesterday's meeting and typically replays it for a few weeks in rotation with other meetings. Keep an eye out for it. And again, a big thanks to MCANA for allowing both sides to be heard.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Star is back with its third Sunday editorial promoting passage of the Wishard referendum. Again, I don't think Star editor Dennis Ryerson had much credibility with the public going into this debate, but suffice to say what little credibility he had has been completely shot. Ryerson at least admits the possibility the adoption of the referendum will allow for higher property taxes, something he's been loathe to admit in the past. He insists we can afford it. "How does health care compare in value to, say, sports?," he asks. He says it's really not that much money for a project this century. Ryerson also buys into the false claims that by building now the interest rate will be lower and we'll avoid $50 million a year more in added costs. He completely scoffs off criticism that the ballot language misleads the public and fails to provide informed consent. "To answer the second query first, there's no way the money wasn't going to be common knowledge early on in an election with nowhere to hide," he writes. "As for the stated purpose of the expenditure -- to enable Wishard to continue to train future healers, care for patients suffering severe trauma and burns, and serve as a refuge for those who are 'seniors, poor, uninsured or vulnerable, regardless of their ability to pay' -- there is a certain precision there that goes beyond account sheets," he explains.

It's funny that Ryerson is devoting so much attention on pushing this issue with the public as if he's concerned the public isn't buying the proponents' arguments. The proponents have more than a million dollars to spend, have been able to illegally use government resources to promote its passage and have had overwhelmingly positive media coverage. The opponents, as I said earlier, have been given virtually no opportunity to address the views of the opposing side and have virtually no money to fight the referendum. To add to his hypocrisy, Ryerson defends newspaper bias in his column today. Not one single news article in his newspaper has presented the well-reasoned arguments of opponents. How's that for bias, Ryerson?


Had Enough Indy? said...

You did an excellent job of laying out the history, the issues, and the complexity of the Wishard referendum. I was surprised how the paid proponents packed the room. You would think they could have been more polite and not kept trying to have the last word, the next to last word, and the one before that, and ... -- all the while not providing any real insight as to why the referendum language is sufficient, why they need to secure the bonds with property taxes all the while telling voters they won't need property taxes, or even what the final cost to build will be.

You mentioned in WTHR report that the project will cost $630 million. I would just point out that the legal notice, which at least defines the upper limit of borrowing (not spending) says they can borrow up to $703 million, then they can add the $150 million they already saved (yes, as you said Saturday, that is a shocking amount to have squirrelled away), then they can add the estimated $120 million interest pay-down from the 'Build America Bonds'. That adds up to $973 million. Then, on top of all that, they can pay interest on the bonds up to $830 million. So, if the referendum goes through, the final cost to the taxpayers could reach a very cool $1.8 billion.

I give H&H and the city 5 years by which time I expect the payback on the bonds will be entirely shifted to the property tax rolls.

Again, great job on Saturday. If voters really want to be informed on both perspectives about the referendum, they should catch a replay of the McANA meeting when it gets into the Channel 16 rotation.

HERS Foundation said...

Read about the protest at Wishard, and what patients said in the new book THE H WORD, p.102-106,

Advance Indiana said...

Thanks, Pat. I used the higher figure included in the public notice. Cat Stevens got that number from the proponents. Yeah, they pulled out the big guns didn't they, Pat. I thought Deborah Daniels was going to become completely unhinged before Cathy eventually called on her. As she said, "I don't work for Wishard. I'm just a volunteer." I guess the $267,000 Health & Hospital paid to her law firm so far this year doesn't count.

Advance Indiana said...

HERS Foundation, I'm not going to go out and buy the book to find out what it says. Why don't you just cut and past the appropriate passage if you want the readers to know what it's all about?

Indy4U2C said...

I have an alternative:

Why don't we tell the Capital Improvement Board we want them to operate our county hospital?

Wishard could be run by the outstanding business managers and financial experts that operate our Conseco Fieldhouse and our Lucas Oil Stadium!

dcrutch said...

Mr. Ryerson seems to complain about unfair misperceptions. There's a suppossed lack of appreciation of the Star's nuances between "reporting" versus "opinion" versus "editorials". News Flash for the Star: They're tough to appreciate when they're basically identical:

1)More local school funding, regardless of not knowing where the existent funding is going
2)More Wishard funding, regardless of a questionable cash flow scheme in a time of massive foreclosures and unemployment
3)National health care legislation- regardless of it being unreadable, unaffordable, and inapplicable (to Congress).
4)Unwavering support of President Obama, despite being the first modern President to refuse to share birth, health, college, and political records.

There was an excellent sign at another Star-ignored political rally yesterday: "Media: Want to make a profit? Try reporting both sides."

Paul K. Ogden said...

My big problem with the Star right now is hypocrisy. They are big into lobbying and redistricting reform, but the editorial Sunday morning simply blew off as no big deal that the question did not identify they were building a new hospital or how much they would be borrowing. How could a newspaper dedicated to reform simply overlook that.

It's the end justifies the means mentality. The Star has repeatedly overlooked dishonest tactics employeed by HHC because, hey what the heck, it's for a good cause.

patriot paul said...

Saw the evening news clip and appropriate comment.