Officials: Hospital’s secret move a ‘hijacking’

Photo by William Woody—Members of the Montrose Board of County Commission seated left, hold a public meeting Thursday evening Oct. 21, 2010 at Friendship Hall. The seven empty chairs were meant for the seven trustees that make up the Montrose Memorial Hospital Inc. board. The law firm representing the trustees informed the county the newly formed board were advised not to show up to the county meeting. Only one trustee, Doris VanNess apeared at the meeting.

MONTROSE — The Montrose County Commission expressed discontent Thursday afternoon with a recent decision by the Montrose Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees to create a new nonprofit corporation to run the hospital, calling the change a “hijacking” of county resources without the county’s knowledge.

Commissioner David White said the move by the trustees to lease the hospital, which operates in a county-owned building, to a private, nonprofit corporation was a move shrouded in secrecy, and he called on the trustees to appear at a special meeting of the commission Thursday.

Only one trustee attended, but she let an attorney speak for her.

The Montrose Memorial Hospital trustees made the change to secure 501(c)(3) nonprofit financial status and lease the medical facility and all of its contractual obligations to the new corporation it created, Montrose Memorial Hospital Inc.

The seven-member hospital board was appointed by the county commission, but it has the right to make the change under state law.

“We have done everything in accordance with state law,” Stephen Glasmann, chairman of the Montrose Memorial Hospital board, said in a separate interview prior to the commission meeting.

The hospital was and still is a nonprofit medical facility, but the board saw leasing the operation to a private nonprofit as necessary to preserve the hospital’s exempt status from property taxes in the face of upcoming tax code changes and possible amendments to state law. A hospital administrator said Thursday if voters pass Amendment 60 on Nov. 2, the hospital could be required to pay more than $750,000 in property taxes per year.

The law offices of Brooks & Brooks, representing the board of trustees, said the county did not serve the trustees with enough notice to attend Thursday’s meeting.

Only one trustee, Doris VanNess, attended the meeting. She was accompanied by her attorney, Kirk Rider of Rider & Quesenberry of Grand Junction.

From a prepared statement from VanNess, Rider said VanNess was not aware of the board’s intentions to form Montrose Memorial Hospital Inc. or had any knowledge of its existence before being asked to vote to enter into the new lease agreement.

“Respondent (VanNess) did not approve the hospital lease agreement executed on Oct. 15, 2010,” Rider said, reading from a statement.

Rider added that VanNess was one of two board members who did not approve of the new lease agreement.

According to Glasmann, however, the board’s vote was a unanimous 7-0 decision.

Glasmann said the board made the decision with the best interests of the community in mind.

White, though, said the county was never made aware of board meetings held Oct. 6, 11, 12, 14 and 15. He said the trustees violated open-meeting laws by not disclosing meeting times and places, and the agendas of the meeting were not made public.

“It’s wholesale hijacking,” White said.

According to the chief executive officer of Montrose Memorial Hospital, however, the board posted the meetings on a bulletin board in the hospital in full view of the public.

“They (meeting times and places) were displayed 24, sometimes 36 hours, before they met,” CEO Dave Hample said.

Glasmann added, “It’s not our job to walk over to the county and give them notice. Under state law we have done nothing wrong.”

White contends the commission was left out of the loop deliberately, saying, “They have planned this for months without our knowledge.”

Hample countered that a lot of research was done for five months, but the trustees “never took any action until recently.”

The next county meeting pertaining to the hospital is scheduled for Oct. 27 at 8:30 p.m. at the Montrose County Fairgrounds.


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