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Councilman Adams at Odds with Sky Lakes

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Councilman Adams at Odds with Sky Lakes

Hospital news | Sunday, June 26, 2016

Contact: Thomas Hottman

Klamath Falls Councilman Bill Adams on Friday reaffirmed previous comments that he is at odds with Sky Lakes Medical Center.

While Adams said he is "on board" with a proposal to construct green space at the corner of 11th Street and Klamath Avenue, he also expressed concerns with the medical center's involvement in purchasing property to rehabilitate it for future use.

"They also do a lot of things for the community that I don't want to see done," Adams said Friday.

"I'm probably still at odds with them (Sky Lakes), with the way it operates."

In a May 16 council meeting, Adams rebuked Sky Lakes for refinancing more than $50 million in hospital bonds, which he thought could affect taxpayers.

"I haven't really changed my opinion on what's being done," Adams said.

"In lieu of paying property taxes, we provide every single year literally millions of dollars worth of free care to residents in our community who have no insurance and who cannot afford to otherwise pay for their healthcare," Stewart said. "Your local tax-paying establishments, grocery stores, auto dealers, retail establishments have no such commitment. They expect, rightfully so, to get paid for their goods and services.

"Despite sweeping changes in the healthcare system in Oregon, Sky Lakes Medical Center continues to be one of the most important drivers of health improvements locally," Stewart said. "Over the past two years, we have provided over $67 million worth of charity care, discounted care, and other community benefit services. This amount of assistance back into our community outweighs foregone property taxes by a multiple of at least 10, if not more."

Optimism, opposition

Stewart expressed optimism, "despite Mr. Adams' comments," about the working relationships between he and Sky Lakes and the "majority" of city council and staff.

"I feel really good about the relationship," Stewart said.

Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom had strong words of opposition to Adams' comments.

"Mr. Adams does not suffer compunction maligning persons or entities with his uninformed opinions," Kellstrom said in an email. "He does suffer from ingratitude. Sky Lakes Medical Center has given as much or more than any organization in town, and we are thankful Mr. Stewart and his Board are stewards of our community."

Sky Lakes' response

Sky Lakes CEO Paul Stewart responded with a multi-page statement he read to council members on June 6 during a work session.

"I ask the council, 'How many similarly sized projects with as much potential have others, public or private — the city included — launched recently?" Stewart said during the June 6 work session.

"Over the past two to three years, Sky Lakes has purchased facilities that most of which, incidentally, were sitting vacant, that has taken a grand total of $34,000 per year off of the property tax rolls. Sky Lakes continues to pay on other properties we have purchased, $136,000 per year."

"We do not provide healthcare in this community so that we can make money," Stewart said. "We make money in order that we might fulfill our vision and mission, which is providing the most-needed healthcare services and improving the health and well being of this community. It's a subtle but a very important philosophical difference for us, and instead of paying taxes, Sky Lakes Medical Center has a longstanding history devoted to providing health care services and community health improvement programs in this community, many of which are free of charge."

No taxpayer impact

Stewart said on Friday the bonds approved for refinancing by city council do not impact taxpayers, but are the responsibility of the medical center.

Stewart called projects such as the green space proposal "precursor investments" to making the community more attractive, potentially leading to more businesses and/or potential employees who might relocate to the area.