University Deal with Columbia Still Irks Council

Article excerpt

City Council members continue to gnash their teeth and wring

their hands over Columbia/HCA's deal with University Medical

Center, egged on by State Sen. Betty Holzendorf, the most

vocal opponent of the deal.

"Basically what they [Columbia/HCA] do is go into a hospital

and shut down those services," Holzendorf told 10 council

members gathered last week for a joint meeting of the finance

and public health and safety committees.

Holzendorf's chief concern is that University, prompted by

Columbia, will curtail its care for the poor and indigent.

In August, Holzendorf filed a suit in Circuit Court, seeking an

injunction that would block the proposed marriage between

University and Columbia.

The deal, signed last winter, puts Columbia in charge of the

day-to-day management of University in return for the lion's

share of any operating surplus the hospital produces. The

agreement is still awaiting Internal Revenue Service approval

The city now pays University $18.5 million annually to provide

indigent care.

Even though the city also owns the hospital, under the terms of

its long-term lease with University, the council has no input

into the daily management of the facility.

Attorneys in the city's general counsel office have advised the

City Council that it has no veto power over the joint operating

agreement with Columbia.

Council president Eric Smith said in an interview that the

council is still assessing the alternatives open to it.

"We need to know what our rights are," Smith said. He expressed

disappointment that neither officials from University or

Columbia attended the meeting.

But officials at University say they were only notified of the

committee meeting a few hours before the session. Columbia's

spokesman said the company heard about the meeting after it took

place.

Holzendorf also told the council that University plans to lay

off an additional 147 employees in December.

University CEO W.A. "Mac" McGriff III , who was reached later,

denied the hospital is planning layoffs.

After posting a $23 million loss at the end of its fiscal year

in July, University eliminated the equivalent of 52 fulltime

positions. In May, University reduced its staff by the

equivalent of 300 full-time positions.

The hospital broke even in October, McGriff said.

Columbia officials met with Holzendorf this fall to explain

their joint operating agreement with University, said Columbia

spokesman Marty Campanello . …