Opinion

Future of Valley Medical deserves strong statement of the will of the people | Our View

The will of the people is a powerful concept, used by politicians and other elected officials to give legitimacy to their agendas.

Because of that, there’s a high standard to invoke that will. We don’t think that a poll of 500 registered voters in Public Hospital District 1, the owner of the Valley Medical Center, meets that standard.

The hospital district commission hired a polling company to conduct a phone survey in September to get general impressions about hospital care at Valley Medical Center. Also asked were questions about the year-old affiliation between Valley Medical and UW Medicine and how Valley Medical is governed.

Commission President Dr. Paul Joos invoked those results in arguing for a legal challenge to the Strategic Alliance. His authority to even commission the survey has been questioned.

We are not faulting the opinions expressed by the responders. You can disagree with someone, but their opinions are never wrong. Nor do we have any reason to believe the survey wasn’t administered using accepted polling methods.

But the issues raised in the poll are complex, not easily answered with a simple yes or no.

Take, for example, the question: Should the hospital pay down some of its debt? Seventy-one percent answered yes. Yes, paying down debit is a worthy goal, unless it means the hospital wouldn’t have the cash to pay bills or maintain a cash reserve. Put in family terms, would you use up a big chunk of savings to pay off credit-card debt all at once if it meant not paying the utility bill or putting food on the table?

So we find fault in  a survey that didn’t give those responding enough information to offer an informed opinion on issues that strike at the future of Valley Medical Center and on an affiliation that went through an extensive public process and intense legal reviews.

It isn’t good policy nor in the public’s interest to base decisions on a 20-minute conversation by telephone with 500 voters with various levels of understanding of the Strategic Alliance.  That’s 0.00357 percent of the district’s 140,000 voters.

To see a stronger statement of public will, look at the 38 percent turnout in a vote in August that led to preserving the Cedar River library.

And we are faulting a survey that has a political purpose, from three members who hold the majority vote of the hospital commission. The questions seem to come from the playbook of the two commissioners, Dr. Aaron Heide and Anthony Hemstad, who voted against forming the alliance, and now Joos.

Without naming him, the poll asked whether it was time for the hospital CEO (Rich Roodman) to go, since he has served in that position for more than 25 years. Roodman has been a target for years by some members of the commission. Perhaps not knowing of that controversy – nor understanding that Roodman is one of the key reasons for Valley’s success – 68 percent of the respondents agreed it’s time to think about new leadership.

We walk lightly here, too. Joos, Hemstad and Heide hold the majority vote by virtue of being elected to their posts. Fellow commissioners Carolyn Parnell and Sue Bowman continue to question why there is this continuing assault on the alliance.

Maybe someone should ask, scientifically:

Are you willing to pay your tax dollars or patient fees for a protracted legal dispute to answer a question already answered: Is the Strategic Alliance between Valley Medical Center and UW Medicine legal?

 

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