Richard Wein addresses hospital leadership and the city’s consulting team with questions about the asset purchase agreement and lease agreement for Sitka Community Hospital (Photo/KCAW)

Over 60 people were in attendance for a city Q&A on the proposed sale of Sitka Community Hospital. The meeting was intended to be an informative dive into several documents associated with the proposed sale, and the majority of the time was spent fielding questions about those documents from a handful of concerned citizens.

Over the past six months, the city of Sitka has been negotiating the potential sale of Sitka Community Hospital to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). Most of that process has taken place behind closed doors. But last Friday (3/15/19), the legal paperwork was finally released to the public, one month before the assembly is expected to make a final decision.

City consultants and hospital leadership filled the seats usually occupied by Sitka Assembly members at a town hall meeting Wednesday (3/20/19) to explain those legal documents and field questions from the public. Legal counsel Sandy Johnson asked those in the audience if they’d done their homework, and read the asset purchase agreement and lease agreement — nearly 200 pages of complicated legal-ese.

“Did everybody download those things and read ‘em? Okay, and I see a number of you did and we’re happy that you did that,” she said. “I will tell you that most people don’t have the time.”

While over sixty people attended the city Q&A, throughout the evening only ten approached the podium. Most of those who spoke voiced concern, both about specific aspects of the APA, as well as the negotiation and buyout process.

Listen to the full meeting here

Assembly member Richard Wein was the first to give public testimony.

“SEARHC has given us a great gift, they have given us their healthcare system, whether they realize it or not,” Wein said. “This has the potential to be a good thing, but in my humble opinion it was at the cost of mission.”

Nancy Yaw Davis wondered why there were still blanks in the document.

“There’s 21 parts that you’re going to fill in maybe on the day that you sign the documents,” Davis said. “Then we’ll find out the real stuff.”

“They’re not there yet because the information is not available yet,” Johnson responded.

Information like how much SEARHC will ultimately pay for the hospital. There are three options on the table right now, ranging from $8 million upfront with lease payment totaling $16 million in installments over the next 21 years. The assembly will make the ultimate decision, but those sections of the document have been left blank for now.

Rich McClear asked about how much disruption to services Sitkans could expect if the assembly did move forward with the sale.

“If this acquisition or affiliation agreement goes through, on July 1, will people no longer go, physically, to Mountainside or Sitka Community? Will they all go across the bridge?

Sitka Community Hospital Medical Director Roger Gollub responded:

“We’re definitely not going to drop anything. As Dan [Neumeister] said, It’s not clear where everything and when everything will be in place. I think probably by June, at the latest, we’ll have a pretty good idea of that and can start telling people.”

And David Sam expressed concern that no forum had been held to inform SEARHC’s beneficiaries of how the purchase of SCH would impact Sitka’s indigenous community.

“I came tonight, thinking that I as a member of the Native community here, was not informed of the status, was not informed of the negotiation process, was not informed by SEARHC of what this is going to mean to me as one of the original beneficiaries of the services offered by SEARHC,” he said.

And the question of whether or not SEARHC will go ahead with building a new campus was put to bed when Carin Adickes, a Sitka Community Hospital board member, asked SEARHC vice-president Dan Neumeister point blank: If the assembly doesn’t vote to sell the hospital, would SEARHC still move ahead with building a new facility on Japonski Island?

“Will you build that if you do not take over Sitka Community Hospital? Can you build that?” she asked.

“The answer is yes,” Neumeister responded. “We are planning to do that whether Sitka Community Hospital comes along or not.”

And Neumeister said that SEARHC would open a long-term care unit — which at present is the primary source of revenue for Sitka Community Hospital.

But, even though most who spoke voiced concern about the hospital sale, the meeting ended early when no one else stepped forward to give public testimony. City Administrator Keith Brady said after the meeting that after speaking with people in the audience, he felt while some were unhappy with the process, at least that process was understood.

“They might not necessarily like it so much, because they’re comfortable with Sitka Community Hospital, and I get that,” Brady said. “Healthcare is very personal. Generally as humans we don’t like change we like to be comfortable. But the general consensus I got is there’s an understanding of the need for this process and for the services to be assumed by SEARHC.”

The Sitka Assembly will hold a special meeting on April 15 regarding the sale of Sitka Community Hospital. It is expected they will vote on the APA and lease agreement at that time. If they move forward, the transition will happen on July 1.