Ravalli County Commission approves funds for Sapphire Community Medical Center

By WHITNEY BERMES  for the Ravalli Republic | Dec 27, 2010

Calling it an investment in the community, Ravalli County commissioners voted Monday to allocate $80,000 to the Sapphire Community Medical Center.

"I do think it is an appropriate action for county government to partner in this fashion," said Commissioner Jim Rokosch. "I look at this as an investment in the community as opposed to either a gift or a grant or a way to spend money. ...The return on that investment can happen and will happen threefold."

The commissioners approved the spending for the sliding-scale primary care center with a 3-2 margin. Outgoing commissioners Rokosch, Kathleen Driscoll and Carlotta Grandstaff voted in favor, while chairman Greg Chilcott and J.R. Iman cast the dissenting votes.

"It is in the county's responsibility to partner with its citizens to provide the most core service that exists," said Grandstaff, who is one of Sapphire's three founders.

The money, which was to be given to Sapphire in full on Monday, will help the Hamilton center during a $100,000 budget shortfall projected for July and August of next year. It will come out of the county's Payment in Lieu of Taxes reserves, which currently has about $388,000.

Iman disagreed with Rokosch, saying that this money is "100 percent a gift."

"It's never been presented to anyone else," Iman said. "In this room today, your only partner and your entire need will be satisfied in one fell swoop. ... That's not the way I do business in my personal life, that's not the way I do business in my public life. That's not the way I believe taxpayers' money should be committed."

Chilcott's biggest concern was the cost, saying he doesn't think the county is in a financial position to take on another large expense. He said he would like to see more options explored, like approaching city councils as well as Marcus Daily Hospital to help fund the center.

"It's not a statement about what you folks are doing," Chilcott told Sapphire representatives, "it's a statement of our checkbook."

At a meeting last week, the commission asked Sapphire to come up with a contract.

County attorney Karen Mahar along with Sapphire CEO Janet Woodburn and executive director Jim Morton then drafted a contract which enumerates Sapphire's scope of services along with an agreement that Sapphire uses money from the county to help fund those services.

Sue Mitchell, another Sapphire founder, spoke at Monday's meeting of the need for affordable health care in Ravalli County, saying that people who have jobs can't necessarily pay for insurance.

"You would be amazed and stunned by the people who do not have health care or are insufficiently insured," Mitchell said.

Incoming Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher spoke against the spending during public comment, saying that there are a lot more problems facing health care than just uninsured patients.

"Is the county responsible to solve that problem?" Kanenwisher said. "What financial shape is the county in?"

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or whitney.bermes@ravallirepublic.com.