Trios Health may hire financial consulting firm

Trios Southridge hospital in Kennewick
Trios Southridge hospital in Kennewick Tri-City Herald

Trios Health may hire a firm to “help reverse its operational and financial course,” more than a year after the idea initially was raised by some board members but ultimately dropped because it didn’t have enough votes.

The seven-member board now has a new majority after last fall’s election, and it recently agreed to bring in two firms to make pitches. The firms are Quorum Health Resources and Huron Consultant Group.

The board isn’t united on the issue. The vote to bring in the firms was split, and there’s also contention about whether the process was handled properly so far.

Newly elected board member Don Campbell, who helped craft the request for proposals seeking a consulting firm, said the district’s financial position “isn’t going to get better until we do something.”

Trios has financial struggles, and when you’re sick, you go to the doctor, he said.

“That’s what (we’d) be doing. We’re hoping this company will tell us what we’re doing well, what we’re doing badly and how we can stop losing money,” he said.

We’re hoping this company will tell us what we’re doing well, what we’re doing badly and how we can stop losing money.

Don Campbell, Trios board member

But long-time board member Wanda Briggs said the work “would be a waste of time, money and energy.”

It would largely be a duplication of consulting work that’s been done at Trios over the past 12 to 18 months — work that helped Trios end 2015 with a positive operating margin of 2.8 percent, which is comparable to like-size hospitals, she said.

The board discussed the consultant issue at its March 31 meeting, ultimately voting 4-3 to follow the recommendation of an ad hoc board committee and bring in the two firms for presentations at the April 14 board meeting.

Board members Rick Reil, Kathy Davidson, Marv Kinney and Campbell were in favor, and board members Jim Mefford, Mike McWhorter and Briggs voted against.

The discussion included contention about the ad hoc committee’s actions, with the board minority saying the committee went too far by sending out the request for proposals and narrowing down the list of potential firms without the blessing of the full board.

“I want the record to clearly reflect my belief that the ad hoc committee overstepped its authority,” Briggs said at the meeting.

I want the record to clearly reflect my belief that the ad hoc committee overstepped its authority.

Wanda Briggs, Trios board member

She added, referring to the board majority, that “it concerns me greatly that at least three board members, probably four, have apparently discussed this option for some time, while keeping Mike, Jim and me out of the loop.”

McWhorter agreed, saying, “As a commissioner, I have the duty and the responsibility” to make my opinions known on important topics, but that wasn’t allowed to happen in this case.

But Davidson said the ad hoc committee did what it was supposed to do in sending out the request for proposals and winnowing the list of firms.

That was the intention of the motion — made during the board’s February meeting — that set up the committee, she said.

Campbell agreed the committee acted within its authority, and he stressed members have done nothing wrong or improper.

“All I can say is, everything was done legally and above board,” he said.

“We followed the rules” and have acted in the best interests of the hospital district and the community, Campbell said.

The motion establishing the ad hoc committee said the group would “discuss the merits of contracting with an operations analysis consultant, identify possible firms, develop a request for proposals and return to the board with a recommendation.”

The committee included Campbell, Davidson and Reil.

Trios Health is the Tri-Cities’ only public hospital district. Based in Kennewick, it has two hospitals — in downtown Kennewick and in Southridge — and a network of clinics and services.

It’s celebrated some milestones in recent years, including the opening of the new Trios Southridge Hospital and Trios Care Center at Southridge.

But it also experienced a cash crunch that made headlines, prompted some layoffs early last year and revealed division on the board about how to move forward. Some board members advocated for bringing in a turnaround firm, but the idea didn’t garner enough votes and instead consultants were hired to help in some specific areas.

The two consulting firms will make their presentations during the April 14 board meeting at the Trios Care Center at Southridge, 3730 Plaza Way, Kennewick. It starts at 5 p.m.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald