BJC lease impact questioned

Boone Hospital Center worker says lease termination discussions have left out the impact on service employees.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:12 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

David Addison, a linen service technician at Boone Hospital Center, said no one has discussed how termination of the hospital’s lease with BJC HealthCare might affect the hospital’s service employees.

Addison has worked at the hospital for two years and was the hospital’s only service employee at the hospital’s Board of Trustees meeting on Monday night. The board has one more scheduled meeting on Dec. 18 to determine whether to renew its lease and the allocation of $200 million of public money over the next nine years.

Addison said that there has been talk at the trustees meetings about expanding the hospital’s facilities, but there has been no discussion of raising employee salaries or hiring new service workers and nurses. He said that if the hospital’s trustees decide to terminate the lease early, the hospital could provide service employees better health insurance and a living wage by using the money the hospital pays for its lease.

Addison said service workers are an essential part of the hospital. But he said that is not the way they are treated.

“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” Addison said. “And we need to live, too.”

Though Addison said the hospital does provide health insurance to its service employees, he said “it’s nothing to brag about.”

Addison also said some former Boone Hospital employees now work at University Hospital because they could get better benefits there.

The board of trustees has the option to terminate the lease early anytime in 2006, with the deadline being Dec. 31. The lease would then end two years after the day of termination. Under the current lease’s agreement, there’s a profit split between Boone Hospital and BJC. This profit split has averaged to about a $9.7 million annual pay out to BJC in addition to management and corporate services.

In mid-September, Robert McDavid, vice-chairman of the board, motioned to end the lease. Since then, the trustees have been soliciting public input about the decision. Medical staff, county business owners and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce have all held meetings to discuss the lease’s impact.

BJC officials have taken credit for much the hospital’s success since the lease began in 1988.

County Auditor, June Pitchford, spoke at Monday’s meeting. She provided the trustees with a brief report about the financial impact of the lease on the county’s general revenue budget and historical information about the lease. She said that Boone County was having fiscal difficulties between the years of 1986 and 1988 — around the time that the trustees started leasing the hospital.

Pitchford said that the lease “relieved taxpayers” of potential taxes and debt. During the first four years of the lease, the county received $691,000 per year from Christian Health Allied Services, or CHAS, which later merged with Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital to form BJC. In the following years, the county received a fixed rate of $1 million a year.

“Presently, the $1,000,000 lease payment represents approximately 8 percent of the general revenue budget,” Pitchford’s report says.

She was asked about the importance of the payment from the lease that the county receives.

“For me to say that it’s insignificant would be misleading,” Pitchford said. “The county was in a difficult position at that time, and the lease (money) was used to help out the county.”

She added that the lease “fills a lot of basic county functions.”

The trustees discussed how this gap in the county’s budget could be filled. If the lease is terminated, it was suggested that the trustees could donate $1 million of the hospital’s profits to the county.

The trustees’ next meeting will be at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18 in Broadway Medical Plaza 3.

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