The Fishwrap – Won’t Print This – VVMC’s Untold Story

by  Chris Neuswanger,

Vail Health should foot bill for mental health services

August 26, 2017

Chris-Neuswanger-22OCT2016In 2016, the Vail Valley Medical Center [now called Vail Health] (Click Here) released a study outlining the health needs of our community.  Mental health services was one of the top ones, and VVMC admits it has only two social workers on staff to provide, at best, stabilization and referral to out-of-Eagle County facilities.

The VVMC report estimates that as many as 25 percent of Eagle County residents will at some point need some degree of mental-health services, a number far higher than will ever need orthopedic surgery, which is the financial cornerstone of Vail Health.

Yet with more than $366 million in cash, receivables and liquid investments (Click Here) showing in the hospital’s most recently available tax returns, and a tax-free net profit (or excess revenues) of more than $45 million (Click Here) in the first six months of this year alone, the VVMC report offered no plans to expand services to serve this glaring need in our community.  As a 501C3 “non-profit”  VVMC pays no Property Taxes on their extensive Eagle County real estate holdings.

Indeed, not one cent of the $300 million expansion of the VVMC is directed at providing mental health care. Per a conversation with Chris Lindley, who is the director of Eagle County Public Health and the VVMC’s response in the implementation plan, none of the expansion will deal with this issue.

This shameful situation seems not to bother Chairman Mike Shannon and his board or CEO Doris Kirchner, probably because mental health care is not a glamorous or profitable line of business, as is taking care of famous athletes and attracting (highly compensated) rockstar orthopedic doctors.

To address this pressing need, the county government is stepping in, and that means spending tax dollars to provide much-needed mental-health services. It also means taxes must be raised someplace, and in this case, the county has proposed a marijuana sales tax (Click Here).  The  proposed  tax  would raise $1.2 million from pot smokers for mental-health care.

That amount is equal to about five days of the net profits (aka excess revenues) for the first half of this year to the VVMC, which enjoys tax-free status because its sworn mission is to provide medical care (Click Here) for the Eagle County community.

I’m very conflicted over supporting this tax.  I fully support the concept of addressing one of our community’s most pressing social issues and applaud the commissioners for taking a stance, and for once, it’s a tax I won’t be paying. The other sad reality is VVMC is immune from public accountability for failing to address this issue and is governed by a board that appoints its own successors (Click Here) and holds closed-door meetings, insulated from public scrutiny, seeming to really not care what the public thinks of them. They have a slick public-relations department and promote themselves mercilessly wrapped in the cloak of respectability of a nonprofit hospital “here to serve the community.”

Mental health is health care, and VVMC has vast resources (including more than $12 million in accrued profits and donations invested offshore (Click Here)  in the Caribbean and Central America) to address this issue already, and those resources are the result of local residents paying far more than the costs incurred by VVMC for many years.

Since 2001, annual revenues of VVMC have increased an average of 22.8 percent (Click Here) , while net income (or excess revenue, as they call it) has increased an average of 104 percent. When earnings increase nearly five times faster than revenues, and cash piles up, it is because prices have risen faster than the cost of providing the services rendered.

But instead of helping out those in need of mental health they chose to (amongst other things) provide a $68 million clinic (Click Here)   for the Steadman Philippon orthopedic group and spend millions bringing in a stem-cell research center. It is unlikely 25 percent of residents (which is the percentage estimated to someday need mental health assistance) will ever need the services of an orthopedic surgeon or benefit from stem-cell research in their lifetimes.

I would urge the Eagle County Commissioners to actively engage in a dialogue with VVMC to see if VVMC is willing to step up to the plate here and invest five days of its profits annually in providing substantial mental-health services to the community.

This could eliminate the need for more taxes on a county that is already burdened with some of the highest health care costs in the state (Click Here) , as noted in a 2016 study (Click Heredone by the Colorado Division of Insurance. It would certainly make this tax more palatable to the voters, and frankly, spending double the amount would probably provide some excellent care for many local residents in need.

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One response

  1. Glad to see you are back on the job. The Director of Health Services made a presentation at the luncheon for seniors in favor of this. There was one woman who spoke up after his presentation but they did not give her the mike so I do not know what she said. When I asked Carly she said she didn’t know what she said. Based on the presentation I can tell you that almost everyone will vote for this. I was upset because I believe the county has a responsibility to present both sides. I am not going to speak up as I an on there shit list. As it turns out I was renting a home from the Brasington”s on Salt
    Creek Rd and they had requested AG on it and got it. Mentioned this to Mark Chapin and was ignored. It’s zoned for Dry Grazing. The only thing that could graze on this property is possibility a mountain goat. I sure know how make friends. PS The fired John Lewis and that has cost the county a bundle.

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