My comment about the feuding between Gundersen Clinic and Winneshiek Medical Center, suggesting that it was time for Winneshiek County to end its $400,000 a year subsidy of the hospital, brought a record number of responses. 1,597 people filled out our on-line survey, with 74 percent (1,176 responses) voting "yes" to the question "Should Winneshiek County stop giving $400,000 a year to the operation of Winneshiek Medical Center?" (23 percent, or 365 responses, voted "no," with 3 percent, or 56 responses, were undecided)
Our survey also gave readers a chance to make comments, so let's head right to some of those messages:
Here are comments from two people who have had to change the way they receive medical care because of the current impasse: "Although I want to support the hospital and wish it be accessible to all, it's really hard to see my taxpayer dollars support an institution that does not see my insurance or my family a value to them," and "Yes, (Winneshiek Medical Center) is a business and must protect its financial interests, but they appear to have lost sight of the fact that medical care is a different bird. Their actions are creating an extreme burden for Gundersen patients, requiring a 100+ mile roundtrip and associated inconveniences when such services could be accessed locally. And loss of patients to La Crosse means lost revenue for the clinic and hospital. A regional hospital should be that--regional."
Let's get on to other comments. Here was a common point raised in several e-mails: "This comment was very disheartening to me. Do you realize that WMC writes off more than $400,000 just in charity care alone? Not to even mention the money that gets written off for insurance contractuals, bankruptcy cases, etc. To keep this county owned facility here for our community and families they do need these dollars to provide care for us all! I have been very impressed with WMC and the fact that they have been able to continue to provide quality and compassionate care though hard economic times like these! I've been told that all of the staff there has worked very hard to save and cut costs during this time and because of that, they have not had to lay off any staff like other businesses have. We should consider our community lucky to have them!"
It is true that WMC writes off more than $400,000 a year in charity care. It is also true that the contribution from county property taxes has been tied to the amount of charity care the hospital gives. But it is also true that other counties do not give property tax to their local hospital to cover charity care costs. As other readers pointed out, "Hospitals in Waukon, West Union, Oelwein, and Waverly received no money from the county and are successful," and "That would be like Olmsted County giving Mayo $3,000,000 per year. Instead, Mayo reimburses Olmsted several million." In short, $400,000 a year in county property taxes is being given to WMC because elected county officials think this is a good idea. There is nothing to prevent those same county officials from making a decision to NOT give that money to the hospital. In other words, this is a policy decision, not a legal requirement.
But don't think all the survey responses were critical of Winneshiek Medical Center in this feud—others criticized Gundersen Clinic: "Gundersen choose to leave the medical campus, they choose to go in direct competition in many areas, they choose to refuse to accept the deal offered first to them and then accepted by Mayo, they choose to build in a dangerous location and in a flood plain. I am tired of hearing how it is unfair not to give them their cake so they can eat it too and just where would Decorah be without a viable hospital?"
So, there it is—this issue is in the minds of LOTS of our readers. Several readers asked some factual questions that we will spend time researching. If you have any questions for us—or if you want to weigh in on this issue—please take our survey if you haven't done so thus far.