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UPH asks county for $30M to run Kino hospital next year

In his recommended fiscal 2009-10 budget, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry identified up to $25 million that could keep University Physicians Healthcare Hospital at Kino up and running.

Under the terms of a 2004 contract, the county in fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1, would pay UPH $10 million to operate the only Tucson hospital south of Broadway.

However, UPH officials want much more.

The group seeks $30 million next year, mainly to cover anticipated losses from caring for uninsured patients.

In a proposal released Monday, Huckelberry recommends paying UPH the $10 million its agreement with the county stipulates. He also reserves another $15 million for the hospital, pending supervisors’ approval.

“I won’t say we’ll get to $30 million,” Huckelberry said.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Huckelberry, hospital officials said that in addition to $30 million, UPH would need an ongoing county subsidy “of something less than $30 million a year” to remain operational.

In 2004, the county contracted with UPH to operate Kino for 25 years. The county would pay UPH $127 million through 2014 under the agreement.

To date, the county has paid UPH $110.4 million, Huckelberry said.

“If you find a hospital anywhere in Arizona and the country that’s financially stable . . . (it) ought to be congratulated,” Huckelberry said.

For UPH Hospital to remain solvent, it may require continued county support, but “not a third of what it is today,” he said.

Republican Supervisor Ann Day has her doubts about a continued county subsidy for the hospital.

“Five years later . . . we’re in a completely untenable, unsustainable contract,” Day said. “I need a much better explanation of what we’re getting with our subsidy.”

The 190-bed hospital spends about $12 million a year providing care to the uninsured, nearly twice as much as similar hospitals, said UPH CEO Larry Aldrich. About 85 percent of the hospital’s admissions come from its emergency department.

Those patients “are not cheap,” Aldrich said Monday.

Providing that level of service means “sitting down with the county as our partner and figuring out what we can afford,” Aldrich said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elías, a Democrat wants to make sure the hospital stays open, but he too has his limits. “There’s an awful lot of uncompensated debt over there at Kino,” Elías said.

Forcing greater cooperation among UPH, the University of Arizona and University Medical Center could reduce the costs to operate the hospital in the long run, Elías said.

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