January 16, 2014 | Vol. 40, No. 3

PMC board requests continuing autonomy from borough

The Petersburg Borough assembly and hospital board met last week to discuss proposed changes to the Petersburg Medical Center’s charter code as well as a recent memorandum written by the borough’s attorney regarding the relationship between PMC and the borough.

The memo details the attorney’s opinion on various questions assembly members posed about hospital policy. Assembly and PMC board members spent much of the time discussing the question of whether or not PMC employees are borough employees—a contentious issue many of the PMC board members felt needed to be dropped.

“I just want to know where we’re going,” PMC board president Tom Abbott said. “I don’t understand the point of this discussion.”

In the memo, the attorney writes that because the Petersburg Borough is listed as a named insured on PMC’s liability insurance policies, a PMC employee could sue the borough.

According to the memo, “Of paramount concern here is potential employer liability for personal injury or death which may be alleged to result from negligent hospital care.”

Hospital employees are also enrolled in the State of Alaska’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), which means the borough could potentially have to pay liabilities if PMC couldn’t fund them.

It’s a risk PMC Board member RocioTejera asked if both boards could live with.

“The question now is are we willing to take that risk just in case in the future there is a lawsuit and we have to claim bankruptcy?” she asked.

She also said the issue makes it difficult for PMC board members to make policy decisions.

During the meeting, none of the assembly members said they wanted to designate hospital employees as borough employees and Abbott asked that the assembly as a whole publically state that the hospital is separate from the borough.

“We all know it’s a gray area,” Abbott said. “We get that. It’s very clear. However, what we’d like to hear from the assembly is that ‘yes we’re going to go forward as it stands.’ The hospital is autonomous. An employee can say, ‘I’m a hospital employee. I’m not a borough employee.’”

The discussion revolved around a larger issue, which is the relationship between the two bodies. According to PMC code, the board is meant to have the “greatest possible autonomy.”

“And that in the charter is, to me, constitution,” Abbott said. “That directs us. That’s where we need to be going.”

Assembly member John Hoag said he thinks that conversation will happen when the assembly reviews the proposed charter changes.

“That’s the discussion that needs to be had with you folks present and the citizens weighing in on it,” Hoag said. “Because we can’t say ‘you’re on your own, have a good life.’”

The question of the relationship is magnified by the PMC board’s request last summer for capital project funding assistance.

“Now is the time to have that conversation…” Giesbrecht said. “We are doing budgets as we speak. That is a huge issue that has to be resolved. If the hospital needs money for the 14/15 (fiscal) year we’ve got a couple months before we start finalizing budgets for that year.”

PMC board member Tim Koeneman said there’s little doubt that, in the future, the hospital will need assistance.

“It’s just a matter of how long it takes to get the mechanism in place to allow that to happen,” Koeneman said.

Hoag asked board members if they wanted to legally separate from the borough. Giesbrecht added, “if that’s the direction the board and the community want to go, there’s probably a process to go through.”

Abbott said the board would discuss it during its January 23 meeting.

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