Businesses finally weighing in on new hospital plan

Some segments of the Waukesha County business community are beginning to speak out against Aurora Health Care’s plans to build an $85 million hospital on the Pabst Farms property in the Town of Summit.
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce board of directors decided earlier this month to take a stand in opposition to proposed construction of the fifth hospital in the county.
In addition, 45 Waukesha County business have criticized Aurora’s proposal in print advertising run by Not Another Hospital Inc., a group opposed to the project and funded in part by ProHealth Care, which owns Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital.
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce board’s official stance against the hospital was decided unanimously by board members at a meeting earlier this month. Patti Wallner, president of the chamber, said the board’s decision was reached after a prolonged period of research and discussion.
"The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce opposes the construction of a fifth hospital in Waukesha County, because it is an unneeded duplication and will result in higher costs for health care in our community," the chamber’s statement said. "The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce endorses competition whenever possible. However, heavy regulation, substantial public funding and several other issues prevent the health care industry in the United States from functioning properly as a free market. Thus, it makes sense for the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce to oppose a fifth hospital in the county."
The decision was not meant to oppose Aurora, Wallner said, but to oppose the building of another hospital in Waukesha County. Wallner said the board’s opinion is based on hospital bed occupancy, the number of beds and the projection of the future population.
"Our conclusion was that the cost of health care is a crisis," Wallner said. "This is one way we thought we could make a statement and possibly affect what will happen. We see duplication of service as an increase in costs, and if we did not make this statement we felt we had no right to complain."
The Town of Summit and then the county will decide if the hospital will be built based on zoning issues, rather than a public referendum.
"We were disappointed that the chamber decided to take any public position on the issue because it was essentially taking a side with one member and opposing the side of another," Greg Banks, the president of the Kettle Moraine region of Aurora Health Care said. "The chamber is there to promote business growth and economic development, which we think is one of the major benefits of our proposed hospital in the Town of Summit."
According to Banks, many people within the Waukesha County business community have come forward in support of the hospital plans or have come forward saying it is inappropriate to have a public position on the issue. Banks said support has been growing rapidly once employers understand the project and feel more comfortable that the new hospital will be a positive addition to a part of Waukesha County.
"The business community is pro-competition and employers we have talked with are in support of our price pledge that we have made to price our services at the prevailing rates in Waukesha County," Banks said. "The additional pledge we would keep is that our prices would be below the medical consumer price index. When employers hear this, it resonates with them and they understand why the new hospital will not have any additional cost to them in Waukesha County."
Wallner said the chamber’s decision was not reached without extensive research, education and thoughtful consideration. The chamber held two board and executive meetings and gathered information from the Fox Cities, Kenosha and Two Rivers where similar situations have occurred.
"The chamber endorses free market competition, and at first glance you think competition is what makes America survive," Wallner said. "But research showed us that health care is not a free market and cannot be compared in the same way. We really see our role here as informing and influencing business and we hope businesses will continue to monitor the situation, make up their minds and impact whoever is in their sphere of influence."
Since the statement was publicized, other organizations and businesses have come forward in opposition to Aurora’s proposal.
Although ProHealth Care financially helped launch Not Another Hospital, the health care organization is not directly involved in its campaign, said Clare O’Sheel, director of public relations and marketing for ProHealth Care.
Not Another Hospital was formed to provide a place for people who oppose the hospital to get involved in the community debate, she said.
"ProHealth Care helped to start up Not Another Hospital to harness the emotions and opinions of the community," O’Sheel said. "People wanted something to do and somewhere to go. The organization has its own board of directors, and we are one of many financial supporters. We will continue to support the organization because we want to make sure the community has a voice in the issue."
In May, Not Another Hospital opened a storefront location at 24 S. Main St., Oconomowoc, and has advertised its Web site, www.NotAnotherHospital.org, on two billboards in Waukesha County.
The Web site offers information, advertisements, articles and research claiming quality health care does not need to cost more. The site also provides ways for opponents of the proposed hospital to get involved in the effort fighting its construction.
"The decision is going to be originally made in the Town of Summit, but we believe it is a regional issue," said Brian Nemoir, spokesman for Not Another Hospital. "High health care costs are not unique only to the Town of Summit."
Bill Nantell, the president of Parks Edge Lakeshore/Winds Solutions, Waukesha, was among the business owners who signed the advertisement for Not Another Hospital and believes the chamber’s statement will help with the cause.
"I am delighted with the chamber’s decision," Nantell said. "It appropriately calls upon the business community to engage in this health care problem. As a small-business owner, I have a health group policy that is quite expensive and part of why that is, is because southeastern Wisconsin has higher health care costs. There are too many hospital beds that are not occupied."
However, not all Waukesha County business owners oppose the proposed Town of Summit Aurora hospital.
"I own a business in downtown Waukesha and have owned music stores for over 27 years now. I can’t imagine someone telling me where I can and can’t open a business," said Mike Gallenberger, owner of Gman Music. "There is always room for another good business and the same for a hospital. I think you should welcome new neighbors. It can be very good for business and very good for the people in the area."
However, Nantell said a fifth hospital in the county would cause his premiums to increase. He is working with Not Another Hospital and networks within the community to inform businesspeople that this is the time to voice an opinion.
"I am hoping the Town of Summit will recognize that we don’t need another hospital, and if it doesn’t, then I hope the county recognizes this," Nantell said. "Waukesha Memorial does not have to care because it will still be a viable hospital. I have to care because I am the one paying the premiums."
June 25, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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