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Cook Hospital district

Healthcare board should end legislative push for annexation

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The Cook Hospital is an incredibly valuable community asset, and that’s one very good reason that the Cook-Orr Healthcare District Board is thinking about how to continue to fund a bright future for the institution.

The healthcare district has, to date, been successful relying on its ability to make the case to residents in outlying townships that joining the district and paying their share of its $1.3 million annual levy is a sound investment. While district officials have made the case over the years, they have ultimately left the decision to local elected officials and voters. District officials erred in deviating from that previous approach, by seeking to force some townships to pay the district’s levy, against the wishes of residents.

While the goal of district board members is understandable, this is the wrong approach and it threatens to undermine the good public relations that the hospital has long enjoyed.

It has certainly caused consternation in some of the townships that could be affected by the healthcare district’s effort to gain through legislation what it can’t win at the ballot box. The move came as a particular shock to officials in Vermilion Lake Township, located between Tower and Virginia, which has never even been asked to join the district. Given its location, most residents of the township were likely unaware of the existence of the hospital district, since the vast majority secure their health care services in communities along the Hwy. 169 corridor, either Tower, Virginia or Ely.

There’s no evidence that the township was ever within the district’s legislatively-established boundaries, save for a single map of questionable origin that made the rounds of district board members. A review of the authorizing legislation makes no mention of either Vermilion Lake or Greenwood townships, and existing law requires an affirmative vote of the local town board or city council, or of the voters, before taxpayers can be assessed by a special taxing authority, such as a hospital district. Greenwood Township has twice rejected such requests, and Vermilion Lake has never been approached. Other townships that the hospital district seeks to annex include Morcom, Alango, and Sturgeon.

The apparent impetus for the healthcare district’s sudden move is the desire of Kabetogama Township to extricate itself from the district’s taxing authority. As with townships like Morcom or Vermilion Lake, Kabetogama is located a long way from the Cook Hospital and its residents rarely utilize the facility’s services. Kabetogama residents typically use the hospital in International Falls and they feel put upon for having been included in the Cook-Orr Healthcare District by a vote of the county board back when the area was still unorganized. Rather than resolve that concern, it appears some in the township have opted to let others feel their pain by pushing to annex other townships against their will in order to reduce the tax burden for residents of Kabetogama. That’s not exactly neighborly. At least Kabetogama residents had the opportunity to argue against their inclusion in the district when the issue came before the county board nearly two decades ago.

Some have argued that the townships in question owe a duty to help fund the healthcare district. Yet township officials owe their primary duty to their constituents, and right now they seem motivated to defend their residents against what they understandably view as a hostile action by the healthcare district board.

What’s more, the healthcare district funds both the Cook and Orr ambulance services. That’s fine, except residents of Greenwood and Vermilion Lake already pay to support the Tower ambulance service, which serves their communities. It’s reasonable to assume that residents wouldn’t want to pay for all three, so a forced annexation of Greenwood and Vermilion Lake would likely take funding away from Tower’s ambulance.

At this point, the healthcare district should end its legislative push for annexation, and do so publicly. While the district’s goal of increasing its tax base and lowering the tax burden for existing property owners is understandable, their current effort is heavy-handed. It’s out of keeping with the usual approach of the healthcare district board and it causes unnecessary and unhelpful ill will towards the hospital itself. The district’s board should chalk this one up to a communications misfire, offer amends to the affected townships, and move on. It’s not a fight worth waging.

Comments

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John Bassing

My hope is that ill will against the hospital will not be generated. I have received treatment at the Cook Hospital and have been treated with respect and knidness at all times. I will focus my ill will against the the Hospital District for their lack of respect for the townships that sit at the outside of their borders. The District needs to apologize for this PR disaster and they need to send a letter to the legislators abandoning this effort forever. Only through a strong apology and retraction of this effort will they be able to ever clear the poison they have dumped in the well.

Wednesday, April 12
Steve Jacobson

So what I'm hearing is you like the Cook Hospital, you have used the Cook Hospital but you don't want to be burdened with helping to sustain it? I agree that the way they have asked is wrong but I would love to see those who don't support it from the area turned away at the door.

Thursday, April 13
John Bassing

Steve,

I have used it as I have the Virginia Hospital &Clinics, St Mary's Hospital in Duluth, St.Lukes, Hospital in Duluth, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They all cash the checks I write and if The Cook Hospital wants to turn me away at the door that is just fine. Just don't cook up some scheme to take the right to vote on the issue away.

Thursday, April 13
Taxed enough, thank you

My family has used the Cook Hospital in 20 years twice. Both times were non- emergency. We go to Virginia (hubby), Mr Iron, Hibbing, or the Mayo in Rochester. We have excellent health insurance through out employers. We are not a burden on any health care facility. If Cook's financial needs are not met by it's geographic patients, that seems to be an issue of it's population's income and poor insurance coverage. To demand that Greenwood and other outlying areas cover your shortfalls is ridiculous. Perhaps if the hospital were a non-profit, Greenwood residents near Cook could donate $ that would be tax deductible?

Thursday, April 13
Taxed enough already

I'm guessing that 90% or more of Greenwood Township's residents have health insurance. Our visits there do not cost the hospital a doggone dime. It is not our problem to cover their losses of uninsured or underinsured patients. We are already taxed plenty by the Feds and the state. Perhaps the Cook area folks need to plan a bit better for their health care expenses? I know our family has. I'm pretty much done with subsiding the poor life planning of others.

Thursday, April 13
Lee Peterson

Quite the statement by Steve Jacobson: "I would love to see those who don't support it [Cook Hospital] from the area turned away at the door." That's really the spirit. It makes me feel a little unwelcome in Cook. No one can deny, as the written facts have been laid out, that this wasn't a back door effort by the Hospital District to enlist three area legislators to snare Greenwood , Vermilion Lake, etc. into the tax district through under the radar legislation.

I understand the District's concern about their future funding. Under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), rural hospitals and clinics are helped to thrive. That's good. But, what lies ahead doesn't look good. Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress, led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, have pledged to repeal the ACA. Even if they are unsuccessful in an outright repeal, the reality is that the Republicans are already doing what they can to destroy the ACA from within. They are starving it. I suggest that Steve Jacobson should focus on the real bogeymen who are in the process of starving out the rural hospitals--that would be the Republicans. In the meantime, I'll stay away from Cook, so Steve doesn't have to turn me away from the door.

Tuesday, April 18
Steve Jacobson

Thanks Lee for doing your part for the Cook Hospital by staying away. Although I'm not from Cook I'm sure most appreciate you not blessing them with you and your Liberal mindset.

Tuesday, April 18
John bassing

Steve,

So you would like people from the area who don't pay taxes to the District turned away at the door. Just how big is that area? What if the District makes a new map that includes Pike, Breitung and Eagles Nest next? Then you wish to exclude those with a liberal mindset. What a business model! Keep working on ideas on how to chase people away from the Cook Hospital and their administration just might hire you.

Wednesday, April 19