February 6, 2014 | Vol. 40, No. 6

Assembly closer to approving hospital ordinance

The Petersburg Borough Assembly ironed out language in the ordinance governing the Petersburg Medical Center hospital board and settled on a relationship between the two bodies that is somewhat ambiguous.

Despite months of discussion between the two boards, Assembly Member John Havrilek still wasn’t comfortable with that ambiguity.

“I’m still concerned this ordinance doesn’t give the hospital or us direction on who does what, when, how,” Havrilek said.

Havrilek asked that clearer language be added to the ordinance that would define the borough as a “landlord” and the hospital board as a “tenant” as it relates to maintenance of the building.

The borough currently owns the hospital building but the hospital board governs PMC maintenance and operations.

Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter said that landlord-tenant relationship was unclear and ultimately counter productive for the borough.

“If I were to be a landlord and I own a house and the refrigerator goes bad…that means I’ve got to remove the refrigerator; I’ve got to pay for the refrigerator that kind of thing,” Wohlhueter said. “I don’t know how that clarifies our relationship with them by saying we’re just the tenant.”

The point was somewhat moot because, as Assembly Member Bob Lynn pointed out, the borough charter directs the hospital board to run PMC with the “greatest possible autonomy.”

Havrilek finally asked the respective administrators, Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht and PMC CEO Liz Woodyard, if they were comfortable with the current relationship.

“Do you have any problems with knowing who’s responsible for what under this ordinance,” Havrilek asked. “Are you both totally clear of who does what?”

“As far as the building and the maintenance go I’m pretty clear that the building belongs to the borough but that the operations are the responsibility of the boards,” Woodyard said.

She added that other communities financially support their hospitals and that it's possible the board will eventually need assistance from the borough.

“At some point things go wrong,” Woodyard said. “The building is old and needs to be repaired. Just last week we had to put a new freezer in the kitchen, the compressor went out.”

There is also an $80,000 shortfall with the new roof that’s being constructed—a bill that goes on the hospital’s tab, not the borough’s, despite it owning the building.

Giesbrecht said the challenge with the issue is the attempt to respond to various assembly member questions about the relationship after the board discussed with the assembly last summer its probability of needing future financial assistance.

“This one (ordinance) does a decent job explaining some of those issues that were predominantly brought forth by the assembly members,” Giesbrecht said.

One of those issues was a $1.2 million line of credit the hospital borrowed in 2006 without assembly and voter approval—a requirement by state constitution. The board repaid the loan once it was known it was taken against statute.

That requirement is now clearly spelled out in the new ordinance.

Havrilek withdrew his motion to add language after hearing from the two administrators.

The new ordinance also “requires” the hospital board to meet with the borough assembly annually to discuss and coordinate financial planning and capital improvement needs among other issues.

The assembly unanimously approved the ordinance in its second reading. A final reading will be voted on at the next meeting.

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