Cooperating For A Better Future

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

In their book “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer’s Chapter 7 is titled “Don’t Cooperate.”

“Almost everything takes cooperation to be successful. It doesn’t matter if it is your business, your marriage, or partnership, or even your sports team, cooperation is required,” they write. Cooperation creates a synergy – energy to get things done that leads to accomplishing more than people or organizations can on their own. Cooperation and increased energy give a project a better chance of success.

Not working together creates a waste of scarce resources, greatly extends the time it takes to accomplish your goals, or can cause you, your community, or your business to fail.

They saw three primary ways in which communities fail to cooperate. First, people and organizations simply don’t work together even though they share a common vision for what is needed. It’s a passive resistance that could be based in turf issues, lack of motivation, dislike for the people in the other group, or a host of other reasons.

Their second example involves people with same goal but who have different ideas on how to get there. This can again be because of turf issues, competition for their idea taking precedence for reasons of group pride, or the belief that their idea is superior. As a result, rather than working together some will work to undermine or frustrate the efforts of those in the other camp.

We saw some of this when two competing ideas developed for the construction of an assisted living/memory care facility in Benson. Everyone involved agrees we desperately need the facility to meet the needs of families who have loved ones who have to move away from Benson to find places that provide the care and security needed for those suffering memory loss.

They also see the need for enhanced care facilities for the community’s elderly citizens who can, for the most part, get by on their own, but need some assistance with meals and medications. They also seek to be close to medical care should it be needed.

The original proposal was for an assisted living/memory care building on the northwest side of Benson in the Hawleywood subdivision. Months of work were put into the proposal, the site was chosen, and drawings of a beautiful facility presented to the public. Partners were found who would operate it. But then things changed.

A new hospital administrator was hired by Swift County-Benson Hospital who also saw the critical need for the assisted living/memory care facility, but had a different vision for where it should be located. Building it adjacent to the hospital, with the hospital as the owner and operator, would not only give the community what it needed, but also substantially improve the financial condition of the hospital.

SCBH has faced three years of significant financial losses due to a lack of physicians at the adjacent Affiliated Community Medical Centers (ACMC) as well as the reduction in the use of its ancillary services. Too many people have sought medical care outside of Benson at neighboring clinics.

SCBH CEO Kurt Waldbillig and the hospital’s governing board went to work on taking control of the hospital’s future by implementing a plan to take over the medical clinic, actively work to bring new doctors and specialists to the community, and build the assisted living/memory care facility on its campus. All three efforts were not only essential to its future financial success, but its very viability in the coming years.

A third, insidious, form of not cooperating is becoming a “naysayer” – someone who constantly points out why things will fail or why they shouldn’t be pursued, but never comes up with positive alternatives. This version of not cooperating is especially destructive when the person or group is in a position to control what happens with a project. Without overtly opposing it, they can kill it by constantly taking action that undermines moving forward.

While we’ve seen little of this third type of dysfunctional “cooperation” in the community, we have seen a fair amount of the first two cases on a wide variety of projects through the years.

There are certainly times when people and organizations have the same goal, but see different paths to accomplishing it. Through vigorous debate, hard questions, and compromise the two sides can reach a solution that can be an improved approach to reaching the desired goal.

There are also times when the different players in the effort to reach a common goal have responsibilities that appear to tie their hands. Situations like this demand respect for the concerns they bring to the table as creative solutions are developed.

As SCBH pursues its goal of building an assisted living/memory care facility, the City of Benson and Swift County seem to be putting the breaks on the effort at times – for good reason. Elected leaders have a responsibility to be prudent with taxpayer dollars and the liabilities they saddle on their constituencies.

SCBH is looking at a project that could cost as much as $18 million involving not only the assisted living/memory care facility, but a renovation of the hospital as well. Financing for the project will almost certainly involve debt that will have to be backed in some way by the city and county. The county already is backing $5 million in outstanding hospital revenue bonds for the 2012 ACMC clinic construction and hospital renovation project.

Fiscal responsibility is a necessary charge city and county leaders bring to the table when discussing the assisted living/memory care project and hospital renovation.

However, they also have to look to the long-term viability and health of SCBH. A financially secure, robust hospital is essential to the community. Unnecessary delays in moving forward erode the hospital’s financial position and delay the time when we can start bringing people back to the community.

SCBH needs the backing of the city and county to move forward expeditiously with constructing the assisted living/memory care facility and renovating the hospital for today’s medical care delivery needs. All three parties have that common goal.

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