Board Votes "No" on Outsourcing Health Center

By: Leah Uko

OMAHA (KPTM) - The Douglas County Health Center will not close. Board Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to keep the center open and to not accept offers for outsourcing to private companies.

It costs more than $42 million to operate the mental health care facility and nursing home near 42nd and Woolworth streets. Taxpayer money contributes more than $12 million.

The board reached out to Health Management Associates to conduct a study and find areas the facility could save in.

HMA presented a slew of recommendations to the board. One of the recommendations was to sell and close the facility, which had no support from the board.

Another recommendation was to start issuing Request for Proposals to private companies. Commissioner Marc Kraft argued that it would cost nearly $30,000 just to hire consultants to prepare RFPs and that this money is not in this fiscal year's budget.

He, along with Commissioner Clare Duda, also argued that issuing RFPs would definitely result in outsourcing the center to private companies that would not provide the same quality care as current staff at the five-star facility.

Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson disagreed.

She argued that issuing RFPs meant nothing other than that. Borgeson stressed to the room of more than 100 people, that the board could review all proposals and not choose any of them.

After hearing many testimonies from the public who opposed outsourcing the center, the board voted to start implementing recommendations from HMA.

"We can implement all of them," Borgeson said. "But we're still going to have to have those hard discussions on 'where do we make up the shortfall."

"We could close the facility and we'd still owe most of that money," Duda responded that the board needs to "reduce that figure if possible and to keep it as good as possible. There will always be support required for this facility. So be it."

In two weeks the board will decide which recommendations they want staff to start implementing first.

The Douglas County Health Center serves 254 patients and has 352 employees. It makes up 26 percent of the county's budget and is the second largest budget after the county's criminal justice budget.