At a Special City Council Meeting at noon Monday, December 16th, Seward City Council members helped pave the way for the Community Health Center Board to continue its speedy efforts to open a new federally-funded Community Health Clinic inside the Seward Province Hospital building by its March 2nd, 2014 deadline. The new clinic will replace the hospital’s existing in-patient clinic, and the current clinic and hospital staff will be able to apply for similar jobs at the new clinic.The council unanimously approved a resolution Monday approving the CHC Board’s selection of Sharon Montagnino to be CHC’s interim executive director. She is experienced in this area, and will help the CHC get the clinic going until a permanent executive director can be hired. Council also approved an amended ordinance to the city code authorizing the employees of the CHC to become city employees for a limited amount of time. They nixed a resolution giving the city the right to approve of the selection of the permanent executive director of the CHC, however, viewing that proposed resolution as repetitive of what is already contained in the city code.
Members of the board, who represent a broad cross section of the Seward community, filled most of the seats of the Council Chambers, eager to see their work affirmed at the city level. The Providence Seward Manager and CHC appointee Montagnino also were there, and City Finance Director Chris Erchinger and City Attorney Cheryl Brooking were listening-in on the phone.
No one attending spoke up at a public hearing either for or against the ordinance prior to its passage. Under the terms of the ordinance the new city employees, physicians, nurses, physicians’ assistants, and clinic support staff will be hired by, and answerable to the CHC clinic board, not to the city. They would however be initially recruited by the city’s human resources department, and will be eligible for the same health insurance coverage that city employees currently enjoy, unless the CHC decides to provide or offer them another form of health insurance. But they would not be entitled to receive the state PERS retirement insurance that many city employees receive. On that matter, all of the council members remained firm.
The amount of time that they would spend as city employees will be delineated in the contracts between the CHC and the employees, yet to be written and determined. These contracts could last from three to five years, depending on wishes of the city and CHC board. Allowing them to the same health care, under city auspices thereby better enables the board to entice potential employees to Seward where they join an established entity with good benefits.
For most of the meeting’s 45 minutes, council members brought up concerns, mostly dealing with the wording of certain code changes. Council member Christy Terry offered numerous amendments she had prepared.Terry was concerned with wording contained in the resolution (which was later voted down by all) that said the council “shall have the right to” approve the selection of the CHC Executive Director. She did not want it to be interpreted to mean that the council would be required to approve the selection of the clinic’s executive director, as they do not want to do that, nor set that as a precedent.
Council member Ristine Casagranda did not feel comfortable with the new ordinance’s wording approving the new city employees “for a limited time” as she felt that would be too vague, and might mean that future councils could extend their employment with the city for longer periods of time than currently intended. She suggested that the wording specify “for three years.” Council member Vanta Shafer felt that specifying the new hires receive five years employment with the city would be a more reasonable time frame, thereby attracting prospective employees with an even longer period of health insurance coverage. Both agreed to rescind their proposals, however, when administration assured them that the council would be able to have more say on the matter when they can review the new employee contracts.
Another amendment offered by Terry, and adopted by the other members, specifies that the CHC Board must submit the CHC’s annual upcoming budget to the city for review by October 1st to give the council adequate time to work through the numbers while determining the priorities of the city’s budget.
There was some concern raised in the audience about the fact that the council had already laid out the model, and set many of the conditions and responsibilities for which the City of Seward and CHC Board would operate in its CHC Co-applicant Agreement, approved in March, 2013. The council had been told that accepting those conditions in advance would make the FQHC grant application more likely to be successful. If there exists any specific conflicts with the ordinance and current code changes, they were not addressed at the noon meeting.
After the meeting decisions, City Manager Jim Hunt announced that was very pleased with the opportunities that the new CHC clinic would bring to Seward. He urged the CHC Board, and its president Patty Beals to keep in close communication with him or the rest of city administration on their progress. Doing so would help alleviate any perception in the community that the two entities were failing to work together, he said.
Providence Manager Joe Fong told SCN he would be meeting with Montagnino soon to discuss the needs of the clinic in the hospital building, and to learn how Providence can help facilitate their move.