November 24, 2003
An Open Letter To:
Citizens of Dona Ana County
Members of the Dona County Commission
From: Southern New Mexico Common Cause
Regarding: Memorial Medical Center; Concerns about the Process, Demand for the Release of Public Records, and a Formal Request for delay in a decision so that a full and unbiased analysis of the option of continued public ownership and operation can be conducted.
1. Information Access and Availability to the Public City and County officials have provided the public with very limited access to information about the MMC issue. It is true that monthly public meetings were held to receive verbal reports from the consultants hired by city and county. However, much of the information which was made available to the potential bidders about the hospital was not made available to the public. This includes access to detailed MMC financial records, the so-called marketing book assembled by the consultant and made available to bidders (but not local citizens), as well as the opportunity for ordinary citizens to access hospital operational information. In addition, no public questioning of the consultants has been allowed at the public meetings, though certain select individuals have had access to the consultants. And finally, while the consultants and apparently some local officials have been briefed on the financial details of the proposed offers, that crucial information has not yet been made available to the public.
Common Cause believes that the full release to the public of ALL pertinent information must be done immediately. Once that information is fully available, several informational public hearings should be conducted before any decision is made. Common Cause reminds City and County officials that a principal reason that MMC,Inc. has not enjoyed public confidence and a likely contributing factor to its financial difficulties is the veil of secrecy under which it has been operated. We strongly urge City and County Officials to avoid acting in haste, and to proceed carefully and thoroughly to reveal all pertinent information to the public, and to provide ample opportunity for public reaction and input to the information, the bids and all other facts, studies, memos and reports relating to this matter.
Finally, consistent with the Public Records Act, 14-2-6(E) which defines public record as all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs and records and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained, Common Cause asserts that all records, materials, etc. pertaining to MMC that have been created, obtained, examined, or held by consultants hired by the city or county, and done in conjunction with their contractual responsibility to city-county, are public records and we demand that such information be made available to members of the public immediately. Certainly, such information must be thoroughly examined and discussed in public meetings and via the public media before any public policy decision regarding the fate of MMC can be made. A copy of this demand is being sent to the Attorney General of the State of New Mexico.
2. The Process On June 18, 2003, The Governing Board of Southern New Mexico Common Cause unanimously adopted a Resolution Regarding Memorial Medical Center. It was delivered to each County Commissioner and each City Councilor as well as both the City Manager and County Manager.
Within that resolution was a strong statement about public participation throughout the process of deciding the fate of MMC. It is the contention of Common Cause that the public participation measures utilized by city and county have been inadequate to inform the public about this crucial public policy issue, and as described in #1 above, access to information has been severely limited. While the consultant promised a full examination of ALL the options, it is quite obvious that the process was deficient and biased in favor of accomplishing a sale of MMC. Despite the fact that an estimated half million dollars has been expended for this work, Common Cause believes the examination of options is incomplete and that the process has been arranged to favor a sale, which not surprisingly the City and County are now considering. Early on, representatives of Common Cause suggested to the Mayor and the Commission Chair that a citizens group be formed to examine the various options. That suggestion, which would have had minimal if any cost, was not heeded, and instead rather expensive consulting contracts were granted to several entities and individuals.
Within that same resolution was also a proposal that once viable options were determined, the final decision as to the future of MMC be submitted to the people via a referendum. MMC is the peoples hospital, owned by the residents of city and county, and the people should make the final decision. Common Cause continues to strongly assert that Memorial Medical Center is such an important public institution in this city and county, and has served many generations of residents, and due to its significance in the lives of our citizens, the matter must be considered, debated and voted upon by the general public.
3. The Public Ownership Option The Mayor and the Commission Chair have announced that they wish to call for a vote at a special meeting on December 12, within a day or two of hearing presentations from the four national hospital companies at public meetings scheduled for December 10 and 11. Common Cause asks, Why the rush? This is one of the most important public policy decisions any of our elected officials will likely make in their political service, and they are being asked to rush a decision within 24-48 hours after hearing the facts, without full public hearings, without adequate time for the public to respond and give informed input. Further, as pointed out in #1 above, the public has not even been given the basic information about the issues at MMC. Common Cause is concerned and suspicious about any process which forces and rushes a public policy decision.
Further, Common Cause has strong concerns about the lack of equity and thoroughness in the consideration of the Public Ownership Option. The citizens of this city and county already own MMC, and yet the public ownership option has not been thoroughly or fairly analyzed by the consultant (as was promised). Even the consultants recognized this fact since at the last minute in the process, they requested members of Common Cause to present the arguments for public ownership, but without the benefit of time or consultant expertise ( or funding).
Mr. Ron Gurley, a Board Member of Common Cause has graciously volunteered his time to begin a fair analysis of the public option, and is assembling a team of citizens and experts (all volunteers) to do so. He has requested adequate time to carry out this analysis and Common Cause fully endorses his request for as much time as he needs to organize such an effort. Had the Mayor and County Chair followed our suggestion of five months ago, this additional time might not be needed, but because they neglected to fully engage interested citizens, more analysis is needed for the public option to be given fair consideration.
Common Cause also believes that consideration should be given to creative alternatives. It is probable that the solution to the issue logically is not in an either-or context of selling or public, but rather some creative mix that would take into account the full health care continuum of services. Clearly the consultants have not provided such creative alternatives, and further thought and analysis must be done by citizens. Mr. Gurley and his group should be given the time they need to develop such alternatives.
The Governing Board of Southern New Mexico Common Cause.
Dr. James M. Kadlecek