Assembly should leave SPH service area alone

I am writing to urge the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly not to make any change to the service area of South Peninsula Hospital (SPH). The current service area is working well and is not in need of change.

The central peninsula and the south peninsula are two quite different places. The central pen has three times as many people as the south pen, and the south pen has a much larger proportion of retirees. Those two facts alone dictate that the two areas need different approaches to providing quality health care. (The borough’s first concern should be that all its citizens have convenient access to good health care.)

The central pen can fund the activities of its hospital through fees alone. A preponderance of its patients enters the hospital with commercial health insurance that pays at high rates. South pen, on the other hand, serves many Medicare and Medicaid patients, and those programs pay at a much lower rate. The very low 0.01 mills that central pen’s service area levies goes entirely to funding the borough’s annual audit of central pen’s hospital. The mill rate that is levied in the south pen almost always is used for capital projects, and the bonds to which a large portion of the levy is devoted have enabled the hospital in Homer to provide adequate facilities.

Ninilchik has benefitted from the services of South Peninsula Hospital, and the health care organizations in Ninilchik have spoken against this change in service area boundaries. South Peninsula Hospital has an operating concept that supports outreach such as that expressed in the ob-gyn services, the pregnancy clinic, the well-baby clinic, and the reading of X-ray and scan films SPH provides in Ninilchik. Central pen’s hospital operates from a campus concept, and generally does not offer the kind of outreach services that form a significant part of the work of South Peninsula Hospital.

The change proposed in hospital service area boundaries would result immediately in denying South Peninsula Hospital about $220,000 per year, an amount that would increase in succeeding years. This would severely impair the ability of the hospital to pursue the mission of providing good health care to all those who live in or visit the south pen. Additionally, there would be a severe reduction in the local availability of health care services in Ninilchik.

One other important consideration in this matter is that the tax money lost in the boundary change would not go to Central Peninsula Hospital. It would not go anywhere; it simply would be lost. (Taxpayers living in the area that might be moved to the central pen service area would continue to pay the millage required to retire capital bonds until 2032.) Kenai Peninsula Borough should be concerned with the provision of quality health care throughout the borough, but this change would gratuitously provide a considerable reduction in funding for health care with no compensatory increase anywhere.

Finally, one of the most destructive effects of moving this ill-conceived ordinance forward would be that some additional areas within the borough might find it attractive to seek tax relief for themselves. How open should we be to making frequent changes in our system of taxation for critical portions of our infrastructure? Uncertainty is not a good foundation for providing health care or any other important service.

The effects of this proposed boundary change clearly would be harmful to the borough’s citizens. I urge the assembly to reject this ordinance. If service area changes seem needed, such changes must involve a years’ long process of careful consideration. This is no small matter that can be converted into a simple question of mile posts.

Ron Keffer is a retired high school principal.