Regents hope to head off Tucson hospital takeover - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Regents hope to head off Tucson hospital takeover

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Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 8:49 pm

Hoping to head off legislative intervention, the Arizona Board of Regents is set to meet Friday to rescind its plan to revamp the oversight system for two Tucson hospitals.

The proposal before the regents would overturn a vote just one week ago when the governing body over the state university system voted to set up a new board for UA Healthcare to manage the hospitals and related medical groups.

But the repeal, even if it gets the votes, may not be enough to stop legislators from pursuing their own plans to take control of the hospitals away from a board controlled by the regents and instead set up a new board, this one with a majority of members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

The Senate approved that plan on Wednesday. House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said Thursday any vote on the Senate-approved legislation will wait until next week, after Friday's regents' meeting.

But Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who crafted the plan for the alternate board, said lawmakers should approve the legislation anyway, regardless of what the regents do Friday.

``So as soon as we back down, they'll do it the day after?'' asked Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert.

That's also the concern of Rep David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista.

``They could come right back after we're out of session,'' he said, noting lawmakers hope to adjourn by the end of the month. ``And then we've got eight months where we couldn't do anything.''

Regent Rick Myers said that's not the intent. But he said that doesn't mean the regents are forever scrapping the idea of approving a plan just like the one that caused the legislative dust-up in the first place.

``Nothing is precluded,'' Myers said. ``But nothing is preordained.''

He said everyone in state government has a role to play in the future of the hospital and medical school.

``Our role is to do what's best for the university and the people of Arizona.''

Regents President Fred DuVal said, though, that the concerns of Biggs and Stevens are unwarranted and that the regents won't try to pull a fast one on legislators.

``Having just taken $198 million in cuts, we do not in any measure underestimate the power of the Legislature to express themselves in ways that matter to us,'' he said, referring to the just-approved state budget for the coming fiscal year.

Stevens remains skeptical of both the board -- and its president.

``Fred DuVal's trying to run for the U.S. Senate,'' Stevens said. ``This is a ploy to get his name out in the press to get him notoriety so he can run for (retiring Sen. Jon) Kyl's seat.''

DuVal said he's not looking for publicity and not running for Senate. He also said that the changes being considered are not partisan, saying they date back to when a Republican was regents' president.

What won't happen, he said, is what many interpreted as a last-minute and secretive process about the change.

That includes Gov. Jan Brewer who actually sits on the Board of Regents.

Generally speaking, governors do not attend the meetings. That also was true of last Friday's session.

But gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Brewer was not even informed that this item was up for discussion.

``The governor believes that a proposal of this significance deserves a lot more discussion,'' Benson said.

``Clearly, we did not do the job we should have in getting a better understanding out there of what was going on,'' Myers said.

``We are sorry for that and we will not let that happen again,'' he continued. ``We will make sure that the governor is fully informed of what we're doing.''

Both DuVal and Myers defended the changes.

One of the most significant would be for the new chief executive of UA Healthcare be someone who could not only operate hospitals but also be a medical professional. That person also would be a vice president of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

``Everyone knows we've been in a national search,'' Myers said, which was initiated by the UA Healthcare board.

``All the regents said is that we go out and hire someone, we think that person should also have an assignment at the university to run the schools of medicine and research,'' he said. ``The person we hire would be an authority figure for all the major elements at the academic medical center and not just have authority over the hospitals.''

There also is a plan to reduce the side of the UA Healthcare Board to as few as nine. There are currently 19 appointees plus eight ex-officio members.

Myers said it would be the UA Healthcare board itself that would have to vote to amend its bylaws to make the change. He said the regents' vote on Friday simply gave the required permission to do that.

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