Sunday, December 25, 2011

Clark and Floyd County Officials Cause Harm To Kentuckiana Medical Center

HARBESON: Where’s the justice?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Kentuckiana Medical Center may soon be drawing in its last breath. The private hospital has struggled from the start and will now die unless Clark County government acts to help resuscitate.

I wonder how much it hurts the doctors to ask Clark County government for help. I can’t even imagine how nauseating it must feel, considering Clark County government is, in part, directly responsible for the trouble the Medical Center has experienced in the first place.

The current deal supposedly puts a tourniquet on the bleeding medical center; however, the government involvement seems to be drawing blood of its own because if the deal goes through, the county could receive $200,000 per year for participating. This is ironic because one of the reasons the doctors wanted to open their own hospital was to get rid of the administrative middle man.

There’s more to this sordid story. So much so that if you are not currently in good health you may not want to read further.

The original idea was simple: a group of doctors decided to take a risk and provide another health care option for people needing acute medical care. However, Clark and Floyd county government, on behalf of their respective county hospitals, fought this idea. Hard. These people wanted to block competition.

In 2005, both counties’ commissioners assumed power they did not have and passed ordinances creating temporary moratoriums on new hospitals. The private hospital investors sued, successfully obtaining a permanent injunction against enforcement of these ordinances.

The damage had already been done, though. The private investors had to spend time, money and energy fighting the unjust interference instead of pursuing the plan developed and based on variables that existed at the time.

Imagine how much can change in a year. Previous agreements and approvals can expire, construction costs can increase, etc. It was as if the county injected the medical center with a slow-acting poison.

Amazingly though, the center opened and began treating the sick. But the symptoms of disease in the form of financial problems started a year later.

Clearly the government-forced moratorium negatively affected the center. I’m not sure there’s a way to revive the hospital in its current form absent further government involvement. Some might say the moratorium helps justify this deal, but government interference was wrong then and further government action is also wrong.

But what can be done about it now?

I wholly commend the investors for their attempt — if nothing else they have taught us what government entities are willing to do to you if you dare to compete with them. That’s not a satisfactory end to this story though. Those harmed deserve justice. They deserve at least some restitution.

Not from the abstract entity we call county government though. The restitution should come directly from the people responsible for taking individual action that was necessary to create the interference. Those people are the commissioners, and arguably the county attorneys, at the time of the moratorium.

One might want to include individuals in the two hospitals as well, but it was up to the commissioners to enact the ordinance and the attorneys to defend it. They could have done the right thing and ignored the hospitals.

Clark County passed their ordinance unanimously, and the commissioners at that time were Ed Meyer, Vicki Kent Haire and Ralph Guthrie. The county attorney advising them was Daniel Moore.

I do not know the vote or the attorney at the time, but I do know that Commissioners Chuck Freiberger and John Reisert signed the ordinance in Floyd County.

Individuals who act in ways that directly harm other individuals should be held accountable. Isn’t that what a healthy form of justice is all about?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would be adversely affected if government officials who cause harm were required to pay restitution because she’d surely have a heart attack.

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