WCMH—How did we get in this mess? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 July 2009 00:00
    By now, most people who even causally pay attention to local news are aware that Washington County Memorial Hospital (WCMH) declared bankruptcy in June of this year and is in the process of developing a restructuring plan.  The long term fate of the hospital is still up in the air.  However, it seems to be the general consensus that efforts should be made by all the parties involved to keep the hospital open if at all possible.
    However, during this time of uncertainty three questions seem to be part of most conversations about the hospital:
“How did we get in this mess?”
“Where did the money go ($15 million +)?”
“Whose fault is it?

    These questions are relatively simple and straightforward.  Unfortunately, the answers are not.  

    Much like personal financial problems, no one specific incident or error in judgment can be pointed pointed to as the catalyst for the downfall.  Again, as is the case with personal finance, the problems being experienced by WCMH and in turn its ripple effect in the community are the result of a series of changing economic conditions, bad decisions, lack of oversight, and poor communication.  Of course, there are points along the time line in the life of WCMH that can be identified as crucial because of the consequences and outcomes of choices made by those charged with overseeing the hospital.  
    At a recent Washington County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner David Brown said, “If it is going to be a witch hunt, I want no part of it.”  That was in response to a question regarding a possibility of elected officials calling for an investigation into what happened at the hospital to bring it and the community to this point.
    Brown's comment probably holds a lot of truth and wisdom for all people interested in this ongoing melodrama being played out in our community.  Little can be gained by viewing this county-wide crisis through an ad hominem lens at this point in time.  Rather than pointing fingers, it would serve us best at this juncture to find out what happened.  
    What actions, inactions, decisions, choices, purchases, financial transactions/arrangements, and/or errors in judgment have created this dilemma? Once we know what happened, then we can decide if personal accountability for the situation should be called for.  At that point, we as a community can objectively decide if those who were charged with acting on our behalf to oversee the hospital should be held responsible for complacency, complicity, incompetence, all of the above or none of the above. I suspect that once the community becomes aware of what brought us to this point then the who part of the question will be simply to figure out.  By using this sequence, an atmosphere of transparency should allow for logical rather than emotional conclusions to be drawn as to the identity of those responsible for the problems.
    Should this suggested study/investigation/research (choose the word that fits best) be conducted by local officials--absolutely not!  I don't intend to imply that they are incapable of overseeing such an exercise.  But for the sake of credibility when the findings are reported, the study must be done by some disinterested party or group.  
    The widely-publicized Healthcare Technical Assistance Program Survey (HTAP)conducted at WCMH by Purdue University between November 2008 and February 2009 might serve as an excellent template to delve into the financial issues of the hospital.  Only select individuals directly associated with WCMH took exception with the HTAP results.  The rest of the community accepted those results at some degree of face value because the credibility of Purdue University's Technical Assistance Program is generally beyond question.
    Once the HTAP survey gathered the evidence of what was the current condition of WCMH then those who were accountable for the problems were abundantly clear regardless of their public denials.
    Of course, the HTAP report cost $50,000 and some would say that spending those kinds of dollars to find out what went wrong with the finances at WCMH is throwing good money after bad money.  Still, like an individual, if a community is ever expected to learn from its mistakes it must first understand exactly the nature of those mistakes.
    In conclusion, I hope that local elected officials see the wisdom in requesting a thorough study of the financial history of WCMH back to the time when it severed ties with Jewish Hospital.  In addition, I hope those same local elected officials will seek the assistance of state and/or federal agencies to conduct the study.  The Indiana State Board of Accounts, the Indiana Attorney General, and the Inspector General for Medicare might be good places to start.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2009 11:42