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Assembly members view the new ordinance that curtails WMC Board powers as a starting point

The Borough Assembly unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night that overhauls and curtails the Wrangell Medical Center Board powers.

The new ordinance requires the medical center board to get approval from the Borough Assembly for any contracts worth more than $25,000 for repairs to the facility, for new construction, or for consultancy contracts.  Any grants or funds solicited by the board must now be approved by the borough manager as well. Additionally, all contracts with a hospital administrator must be approved by the borough manager and the borough attorney.

Community members spoke at length about the new ordinance during the public hearing, many pointing out what they see as serious flaws.

Alice Rooney is concerned that the borough assembly now has the power to change the fees and rates of the hospital, which could impact Medicare or Medicaid payments. “But I’m really concerned because Medicare and Medicaid funds provide the bulk of revenue for the hospital and it makes me very nervous to think of the borough assembly [having control]… You all are very smart people, but two or three years down the road we may have some people up here who are not quite so smart and might decide to work on the rates that are set by the board and might run afoul of Medicare and Medicaid regulations that are not specifically spoken to in the way the ordinance is worded.”

Janet Buness, a nurse at the hospital, was concerned about the clause requiring hospital personnel policies and procedures to align with those of the borough. She asked what that would mean for their benefits packages, which are very different from the borough’s since they are excluded from the state benefit’s system. She also wanted to know how this would impact their work hours.

“I have some huge concerns, shifts alone. The nurses work 12-hour shifts. The city works 8-hour shifts. It would be a huge burden on the hospital to move everybody back to 8-hour shifts,” Buness said.

Stephen Ruks said the ordinance just goes too far. “How much management are you planning on taking over on this hospital board? Are you gonna let them run the thing? The people that we elected to put in there? Or are you going to micromanage the whole thing?”

But Robert Maxand says the community wants an ordinance like this in place. “You know you gotta start some place, and I think the people are trying to tell you that. I don’t know. I think it’s a starting point and the people want you to start somewhere.”

Ultimately the Assembly agreed with the senior Maxand, and most members made comments saying the ordinance is a starting place that they hope the new medical center board will help them modify, especially in light of comments made during the public hearing.

“The goal is to have no animosity, no conflict, and to really work together with you to come up with ultimately what is a really, really good [ordinance],” Mayor Jeremy Maxand explained. “But we wanted to have that happen before you got into place because we didn’t want to spend the next couple of months in some kind of heated conflict about the intent of all this. We want to protect the city, we want to protect the hospital, and I think this is getting to it.”

The council also looked at a draft agreement between the borough and Peace Health for interim management of the Wrangell Medical Center. They passed a motion that gave borough staff authority to enter into a final agreement with Peace Health once it is fully drafted. The new hospital board will look at the agreement during their first meeting tonight. Peace Health is the Catholic health organization that administers the hospital in Ketchikan.

In other borough news, Billie Younce will fill the assembly seat left vacant by Mike Symons until a new assembly member is elected in October. She was the only community member to submit a letter of interest for the seat. Her appointment passed 3 to 2.

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