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Posts Tagged ‘North Kansas City Hospital’

A big, developing story that many area residents might not be paying much attention to is the future of North Kansas City Hospital.

I’ve been following the developments closely, partly because the long-running story of Northtown, as it’s called, has been mesmerizing. It goes like this:

Small, humble city on the edge of Downtown Kansas City stumbles into wealth after casino gambling comes to town, and proceeds to plow through its treasure trove and find itself in worse shape than before it got rich.

The story’s arc is like that of a modest family that wins the lottery, starts buying fancy cars and lavish homes and then finds itself in dire straits. The family members are left looking over their shoulders, saying:

“How in the hell did we let that happen?”

Long story short, North Kansas City has burned through millions of dollars in casino revenue, and city officials now want to sell the hospital, which the city owns but is under the control of an independent board of trustees.

The hospital’s value? An estimated $500 million.

Thus, a battle royal is underway: On one hand, the City Council is doing everything it can to gain the right to sell the hospital, while, on the other hand, most citizens and hospital officials are striving to build a legal moat around the facility, which was built in 1958.

***

NKCHosptitalI have a slightly more than passing interest in this battle.

First, my wife Patty and I own a building in the 1300 block of Swift Avenue, where Patty operates a clothing manufacturing business. We’ve owned the building for more than 10 years, and North Kansas City has proved to be a great place to do business…It is quiet, safe, and city services have been excellent.

Second, my primary care physician is with North Kansas City Internal Medicine, which has its offices adjacent to the hospital. Fortunately, I’ve never been hospitalized there, but it’s entirely likely that I will be some day.

If and when I am admitted to NKC Hospital, I don’t want it to be owned by a mega corporation like Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).

If I have to be in a hospital for an extended stay, I want it to be one where the emphasis is on patient care, not cookie-cutter systems designed to generate as much money as possible from operations.

That’s not to say NKC Hospital isn’t financially successful; it is big, and it generates lots of revenue.

But now…back to the riches-to-rags story of North Kansas City.

After Missouri voters approved legalized gambling in 1992, Harrah’s planted its “boat in a moat” at Chouteau Trafficway and Missouri 210 (eastward extension of Armour Road). At its peak, North Kansas City was taking in $11.5 million a year from the casino, including $1 for every person who entered the casino to gamble.

Eight months ago, The Star’s Steve Everly and Allison Prang charted beautifully Northtown’s rise and fall.

For a while, everything was great: The city was flush and city services were impeccable. (I remember several years ago, when the city put new sidewalks in on Swift, when the existing sidewalks still looked pretty good.) But after Gene Bruns was elected mayor in 1997, the city went on an extended spending spree.

Among other things, the city built a gigantic community center — perhaps the biggest in the metro area — on Armour Road, not far from City Hall; it spent $10 million for properties near Armour Road and I-35 for a mixed-use development; and it built its own fiber optic network at a cost of $13.5 million.

Here’s how those investments have fared, as reported by Everly and Prang:

— During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the community center had revenue of $1.1 million and operating expenses of $2.6 million.

— The mixed-use development has not come to fruition.

— The fiber optic network lost more than $1 million during 2011 and 2012.

The city partied on for most of Bruns’ 12 years in office, which came to an end in 2009.

Everly and Prang were not able to reach Bruns (I wonder why), but, according Elizabeth Short, who preceded Bruns, he made his intentions clear early on.

“He told me, ‘You got the money, and I get to spend it,’ ” she recalled.

***

It’s too bad the citizens of North Kansas City didn’t catch on to Bruns earlier and nip him and his councils in the bud.

But the damage has been done, and now North Kansas City residents and their elected representatives in Jefferson City are trying to prevent the worst possible development.

Recently, state Sen. Ryan Silvey introduced a bill that would allow the hospital’s board of trustees to vote to become an independent, nonprofit corporation.  In addition, if five percent of the city’s registered voters signed a petition calling for the hospital, to go to nonprofit status, the question would be put to North Kansas City voters.

State Rep. Jay Swearingen told The Star last month that he planned to introduce a similar bill in the House.

Let’s hope that city officials and lobbyists for corporations eyeing the last big independent hospital in our area are not able to convince — or buy — the favor of a General Assembly majority.

This is a story that deserves to be watched very closely, whether you live in Kansas City or North Kansas City…Grain Valley or Pleasant Valley.

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